Developing Effective Treatments for Chronic Fatigue
All diseases are an annoyance in the life of otherwise happy, healthy people. Chronic fatigue syndrome is particularly vexing for sufferers because no amount of rest can improve their feeling of complete exhaustion, while physical and mental activity only serve to exacerbate the issue. What’s worse for those suffering from the condition is the lack of knowledge on its cause, and treatments that work at times, and fail on other occasions. What current treatments exist, and what treatments are in development?
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by excessive fatigue that is not the result of physical or mental exertion. It is not connected to known underlying medical conditions, its origins are fuzzy at best, and diagnosis requires a range of medical tests to rule out other conditions.
Given the struggle to identify the root cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, and in many cases even accurately diagnosis the condition, the current treatments available are long-shot efforts at best. One drug, Ampligen, is no longer recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it requires additional clinical evidence and data before it can be approved for wider use.
Treatments for Other Conditions often applied to CFS
Many sufferers of chronic fatigue have had to turn to treatments for other conditions to provide relief for some of the many symptoms of CFS. For example, The Atlantic notes how one sufferer was able to fight through the fog of CFS using Adderall, a drug commonly prescribed for ADD and ADHD sufferers. To fight off the crippling muscle pain, that same individual uses naltrexone, which is normally used to fight opiate addiction.
The piece in The Atlantic also mentioned how a recent trial in Norway treated 15 sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome with a common cancer drug. The drug knocked out B cells making antibodies in the system, and 10 of the 15 patients got better.
Problems Facing the Struggle for Solutions
One of the greatest hurdles to a solution for CFS is the lack of understanding of what causes the disease. Patients have reported a number of starting points, with illnesses such as a common flu or mononucleosis, that deteriorated over time into what is believed to be chronic fatigue syndrome. Some scientists and researchers wonder if it isn’t a domino effect in the body of other diseases, while some point to potential problems in the brain.
There is also the social stigma that comes with the disease because of its inaccurate and altogether common name. Chronic fatigue syndrome makes it seem as though people just have low energy levels, when it reality those suffering are dealing with pain, migraines, paralysis, and blindness among the many symptoms.
Complicating matters further is the trouble in securing funding. With a common name and social ridicule, to a degree, securing funding to research the disease further is difficult. The National Institute of Health only devotes $5 million annually to research. While that sounds like a large sum, it is the same amount devoted to lesser issue such as hay fever, common headaches, and infertility.
The FDA currently encourages those developing treatments for CFS to rely on patient-reported outcomes and symptoms to help guide the development of new drugs to potentially treat chronic fatigue.