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Stress Triggers Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

WomanChronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. The disorder often persists for months and is more common among women.

Although the cause or causes of CFS have not been identified, a new study confirms previous research indicating that CFS is related to an imbalance in the normal interactions among the various systems of the body that work together to manage stress.

Researchers discovered abnormally low morning concentrations of the hormone cortisol may be correlated with more severe fatigue in CFS patients, especially in women.

“We’re learning more and more about the complexities of the illness that is chronic fatigue syndrome,” said William C. Reeves, M.D., with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., and lead author of the study.

“This research helps us draw a clearer picture in regards to how CFS affects people, which ultimately will lead to more effective management of patients with CFS.”

For their study, the researchers screened 19,381 residents of Georgia, selecting 292 people who had CFS, 268 who were considered chronically unwell, and 163 who were considered well to participate.

The researchers then measured free cortisol concentrations in saliva, which was collected on regular workdays, immediately upon awaking and 30 minutes and 60 minutes after awakening. The data indicated different profiles of cortisol concentrations over time among the groups, with the CFS group showing an attenuated morning cortisol profile.

Study participants were purposely screened and enrolled from the community, rather than from volunteers identified at a specialty referral clinic. The purpose of this study design was to provide results that would be more generalizable to the population suffering from CFS.

In this study, women with CFS exhibited significantly attenuated morning cortisol profiles compared with well women. In contrast, men with and without CFS showed no difference in cortisol levels. This could explain why women are predominately more likely to suffer from CFS.

“People with CFS have reduced overall cortisol output within the first hour after they wake up in the morning, which is actually one of the most stressful times for the body,” Dr. Reeves said. “We need further studies to better understand the relationship between morning cortisol levels and functional status of a patient suffering from CFS.”

Source: Endocrine Society

Stress Triggers Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Stress Triggers Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 23, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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