'Yuppie-Flu' Remains an Enigma

Written by Suzanne Leigh

Chronic fatigue syndrome perplexes the medical community, but doctors are taking it seriously.

Decades after headlines first dubbed it "yuppie-flu," there's still no consensus among the medical community about the definition of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Is it a serious and debilitating illness, or a bogus condition confined to hypochondriacs and people with "highly emotional" dispositions?

Traced to the late 1800s.
More common in women
Many groups stricken.
Persistent fatigue lasts more than six months.
Symptoms include sore throat, muscle pain and headache.

In a study published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers have concluded that CFS should not be viewed as a single condition, but as a "multidimensional illness" with many manifestations.

According to government information, CFS is a persistent, unexplained fatigue lasting more than six months. Other symptoms include sore throat, tender neck, muscle and joint pain and headache.

Even data on recovery rates from CFS are conflicting. One study found that only 3 percent experienced a complete recovery over the course of 18 months. In contrast, a second study found that 64 percent of CFS patients had improved by a one-year follow-up.

Some studies have shown that CFS is more common among the educated and affluent. Other researchers have questioned this finding and pointed out that poorer, less educated people are less likely to see a doctor.

Similarly, some research claims that CFS is a physical manifestation of depression and unlikely to be found in those who are content with their lives. Other research has disputed this link.

But despite the dissension, lead researcher Susan K. Johnson of the department of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte said some headway has been made in the understanding of CFS.

"Although the pathophysiology of CFS is still not understood and inconsistencies exist in the literature, progress is being made," said Johnson.

"My impression is that physicians are taking the illness more seriously in response to research findings."

Specifically, doctors are less likely to perceive the condition in terms of the yuppie-flu stereotype and are more open to consider treatment options, she said.

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