For decades, people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome have struggled to convince doctors, employers, friends and even family members that they were not imagining their debilitating symptoms. Skeptics called the illness “yuppie flu” and “shirker syndrome.”
Times Essentials: Reporter’s File
Heidi Schumann for The New York Times
Donna Flowers was once debilitated by chronic fatigue but has tamed her disease with exercise and treatment.
“People with C.F.S. are as sick and as functionally impaired as someone with AIDS, with breast cancer, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” said Dr. William Reeves, the lead expert on the illness at the disease control agency, who helped expose its misuse of chronic fatigue financing.
Patients say the word “fatigue” does not begin to describe their condition.
Studies have shown that people with the syndrome experience abnormalities in the central and autonomic nervous systems, the immune system, cognitive functions, the stress response pathways and other major biological functions.
Kristin Loomis, executive director of the HHV-6 Foundation, a research advocacy group for a form of herpes virus that has been linked to C.F.S., said studying subsets of patients with similar profiles was more likely to generate useful findings than Dr. Reeves’s population-based approach.
“You can change people’s attributions of the seriousness of the illness if you have a more medical-sounding name,” said Dr. Leonard Jason, a professor of community psychology at DePaul University in Chicago.
Updated from an article that originally appeared in The New York Times on July 17, 2007.
By David Tuller