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Overcoming Chronic Pain and Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a debilitating disorder that is characterized by extreme exhaustion. Researchers say more than 1 million Americans have the disorder, but 85 percent to 90 percent of them are undiagnosed.

The reason for so many undocumented cases is CFS is difficult to detect. Symptoms are often similar to those of other illnesses and include fatigue, muscle pain, insomnia, impaired memory, and overall weakness. Previous studies show the cause of CFS is unknown and no specific diagnostic tests have been available.

Patients with CFS often cannot participate in the same activities they engaged in prior to having the disorder. Some can't even walk across a room because they are so tired. Bed rest does not seem to improve energy levels of patients with CFS, and physical and mental activity may worsen the condition.

Another possible cause for so many unreported cases is many doctors misdiagnose CFS patients as having a psychological disorder. Barry Hurwitz, Ph.D., from the University of Miami's Behavioral Medicine Research Center, says patients often feel isolated. "Individuals are often stigmatized and told their illness isn't real," says Hurwitz. "People with chronic fatigue syndrome face an incredible burden just getting doctors to take their symptoms seriously."


Hurwitz and colleagues from the University of Miami believe they've found a physical cause for CFS. They say the condition is linked to a decrease in red blood cells. "In chronic fatigue, about 60 to 70 percent of individuals we found have a deficit in red blood cell production, and it's not picked up by normal medical tests. It's not generally known in the medical community that there is this problem with red cell production," says Hurwitz. Red blood cells transport nutrients to cells, and an insufficient amount of them, can cause patients to feel fatigued.


Researchers are now testing the drug Procrit on CFS participants who are between the ages of 18 and 55. Procrit is approved for treating cancer and kidney dialysis patients who are anemic. However, new research shows the drug also stimulates red blood cell volume in CFS patients by imitating the hormone erythropoietin that is normally released by the kidneys. Side effects of the drug include diarrhea, fever, and shortness of breath. Results of the ongoing study are not conclusive, but Hurwitz says Procrit is definitely helping some of the CFS participants. "Some people have shown remarkable improvement and have gone back to work, and in others, it's been less effective," he says. Researchers say future studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of the drug on CFS patients.


Alex Gonzalez
University of Miami
Behavioral Medicine Research Center
1201 NW 16th Street
Miami, FL 33125
(305) 575-7154
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