The New York Times notes that after a disease can be “diagnosed reliably through lab tests, creating an accurate case definition” becomes easy. But for illnesses with no known cause and subjective symptoms, such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), competing definitions are “inevitable.”
Now, a CFS study published in The Lancet that reports “exercise and cognitive-behavioral therapy” can help patients with CFS, has incited debate “among researchers and patient advocates” as to whether patients are depressed because they have CFS or whether CFS itself is a “somatic expression” of a depression.
To researchers who believe CFS is “merely a psychological condition, that distinction may not seem important.
But it matters deeply to those convinced it is a viral disease.” Importantly, how a case is defined can “profoundly affect statistics vital for public health planning.”
The Wall Street Journal reported the fact that scientists are struggling with how to define CFS is compounded by statistics showing only 20% of population is believed to suffer from the illness and could ultimately hinder more research.
In a separate story in the Wall Street Journal, Leonard A. Jason from the Center for Community Research at DePaul University discussed how he has lived with CFS since 1990. He also summarized several research teams’ efforts to develop a CFS case definition.
For more information, I recommend the CFIDS Association.