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chronic fatigue syndrome

Cause and Treatment

There is no known single cause of CFS. Some authorities believe it is a condition shared by many different underlying diseases rather than an entity unto itself; others believe it is caused by a defect of the immune system. Hormonal deficits, low blood pressure, and viral infections have been studied as possible causes or contributors. The postulated causal link with Epstein-Barr virus hypothesized in the mid-1980s has been discounted. In 2009 researchers announced that they had found xenotropic murine-leukemia-virus-related virus (XMRV) in many patients with CFS, but the study did not show that XMRV was linked to CFS. Other studies failed to replicate its findings, and the paper was later retracted.

There is no definitive treatment for CFS, although success has been reported anecdotally with antidepressants, antianxiety medications, antivirals, and immune boosters. Symptomatic treatment for the muscle and joint pains is helpful in some cases, as are psychological and physical therapies. Counseling and peer support groups help some patients cope with the frustrating nature of the disease. A British study released in 2012 found that cognitive behavioral therapy and graded exercise therapy were the most successful and cost-effective treatments.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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