Overactive Immune System Might be Missing Link in Chronic Fatigue Research

Researchers have found CFS sufferers have overactive immune systems.
Jessica Miley

New research has revealed possible triggers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or ME. An overactive immune system may explain why some people develop the syndrome, with many people pointing to fighting an infection as the trigger for the ME symptoms. 

Researchers looked at 55 patients with Hepatitis C who were given a drug that causes a similar response to a virus. Of this group, 18 had an overactive immune system, and all of these went on to develop CFS-like symptoms.

Extreme tiredness symptoms hard to shake

CFS is a syndrome where patients experience symptoms related to extreme tiredness. Scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's College recruited 55 patients who had hepatitis C for their recent study. 

The recruits were treated with the standard drug called interferon-alpha. The medication provokes the immune system in the same way a severe infection might. 

Overactive immune systems are responsive to triggers

Fatigue measures of each participant were recorded before during and after treatment, tracking which people developed the persistent CFS-like illness. 18 of the 55 patients developed CFS-like symptoms, all of which had shown much stronger immune responses to the medication. 

These 18 had also indicated an overactive immune system before the treatment started. Lead researcher Dr. Alice Russell from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) said:

"For the first time, we have shown that people who are prone to develop a CFS-like illness have an overactive immune system, both before and during a challenge to the immune system."

"Our findings suggest that people who have an exaggerated immune response to a trigger may be more at risk of developing CFS." 

Senior researcher, Prof Carmine Pariante, added: "This is a light in the fog, a direction of travel. Although screening is a long way off, our results are the first step in identifying those at risk and catching the illness in its crucial early stages." 

More about ME or CFS

Chronic Fatigue is also known by its official title Myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME. Severe symptoms of the disease may last several months or even years, but it is rare for patients to ever fully recover from the illness. 

It can be difficult to diagnose when there are other factors such as depression or overwork involved too. The exact cause for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome isn’t known and there is no clear solution either. 

It’s common for the disease to follow an intense infection or even an intense psychological or physical trauma like the loss of a loved one or a car accident.

There are studies that have examined people suffering from the condition which has found that commonly there are abnormalities in their brains and nervous systems that may contribute to their symptoms. The long-term illness affects about 250,000 people in the UK.

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