Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients Grow Weary of Doubt

A controversial study finds that personality disorders could play a part in CFS

ByABC News
November 9, 2010, 7:04 PM

Nov. 29, 2010— -- Teresa Serice tried to lift her arms. It was her daughter's wedding day, and she needed to get into her mother-of-the-bride dress. She struggled to slip it on as her husband offered to help.

No, she told him. She'd do it herself. And after several minutes, she found the physical strength to put on the dress.

In July of 2007, Serice's life came to a standstill when she began suffering from a degree of fatigue she had never before experienced. A year later, she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, a condition that caused basic tasks like laundry and blow drying her hair to leave her exhausted and breathless.

"Walking from my bedroom to my kitchen now can feel like I'm trying to cross the Sahara Desert," said Serice, a 49-year-old resident of Kaiser, Ore.

CFS is a condition associated with prolonged and severe fatigue that is not improved through rest and sleep. Many CFS patients also have brain fog symptoms, described as bouts of unusually poor mental function that includes confusion, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the causes of CFS are largely unknown, but some possible triggers include infectious agents, immunological dysfunction and nutritional deficiency.

The condition has long been surrounded by controversy. For years, many doctors wouldn't recognize chronic fatigue syndrome as a legitimate disorder. Many CFS patients say they have visited doctors who are totally unaware of the illness. When tested, patients' lab work often comes back clear, and because of this, some doctors have argued that the condition is psychological, not physiological.

In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University School of Medicine, researchers found that CFS was associated with an increased prevalence of personality disorders. Authors also said that personality may be a risk factor for CFS and may contribute to the maintenance of the illness.

"I think that's the biggest bunch of horse hooey I've ever heard," said Serice, who has a master's degree in business administration. "It's insulting. I spent my time, money, and education to get to work at an executive level and it's all been knocked out from under me because I'm tired?"

But Dr. Elizabeth R. Unger, acting chief of CDC's Chronic Viral Diseases Branch and spokesperson for the study, said that personality disorders may not cause CFS but rather, act as a secondary symptom of any chronic or severe disease.

"Other studies have found personality disorders were associated with fatigue and depression, as well as with chronic fatigue syndrome," said Unger. "The objectives of this study were to follow up on previous personality research as well as to describe the prevalence of personality disorders in people with CFS.