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What causes chronic fatigue syndrome or systemic exertional intolerance disease?

No defined cause of CFS or SEID is known, even after about two decades of research on patients who fit the CFS or SEID criteria. Although many diseases coexist with CFS or SEID in patients, there are no proven links to any known disease (physical or mental) or pathogen (including viral) that is responsible for CFS or SEID development.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that researchers are still trying to identify the cause(s) of CFS/SEID and offer some speculation about the ongoing research. For example, they suggest the possibility that CFS/SEID represents an endpoint of multiple diseases or conditions such as viral infections, stress, and toxin exposure. However, the CDC states that "CFS is not caused exclusively by any single recognized infectious disease agent." This includes Epstein-Barr virus, Lyme disease bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi), human retroviruses, bornaviruses, fungi, Mycoplasma spp, and many others. However, if a person has been infected with several (at least three) different pathogens, the chances of getting CFS/SEID goes up. In addition, some researchers had suggested that a new virus found in some CFS/SEID patients (termed XMRV or xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus) may be a candidate for cause, but a recent larger study has disproven this theory. In addition, although the CDC says no autoimmune changes like lupus or other diseases are found in CFS/SEID, many CFS/SEID patients have high levels of immune complexes and anti-self antibodies in their blood that may be a clue about what causes CFS/SEID. The CDC mentions other findings (allergies, T-cell activation, and cytokines), but none have any direct link to causing CFS/SEID.

Return to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS or SEID)

See what others are saying

Comment from: just me, 25-34 Male (Patient) Published: February 02

I went undiagnosed with type 1 diabetes for over a year when they finally figured out what I had. I was happy and relieved but just 2 months after getting things under control I didn't get better with a lot of my symptoms, fatigue, sore muscles, aches and pain, etc. I went to doctors for 3 years now and they say it is chronic fatigue syndrome but sadly will not diagnose me. It is terrible but keeping positive is the key. It is so very hard to think through sentences, I hope this makes sense.

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Comment from: Ferrit, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: September 16

I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome about 12 years ago now. Over time this has progressed to fibromyalgia although my symptoms are now of both, despite beliefs of some that they are very different. Stress always exacerbates the conditions and as time has gone on I have illnesses less often but when I am ill it is more serious (shingles, kidney infections, blood poisoning from bites or rashes for example) than the run down feeling I used to have or the flu like symptoms. I do feel that I manage the conditions to the best I can, light regular exercise really does help as do relevant supplements. I know it sounds like rubbish but keeping diaries really does help, as does saying no when something really is too much. I work full time now and believe this is down to learning to recognize your own limits. Don't do too much on energy days, just do something you enjoy! Avoid negative people and also be honest with yourself about what you can do today. Stop being frustrated about what you used to do and focus on new things you can enjoy now. It is frustrating but remember, it isn't going to kill us, difficult as it is, a positive attitude does make a difference and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

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Comment from: shemaggiema, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: January 23

My CFS was diagnosed about 6 months after the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. The pain was significant and was the most pressing issue in the beginning. I had a bout of mononucleosis and never got better. My thinking was severely impaired, I felt as though my head was full of cotton. At first I could manage a partial day at work if I started early in the day. Eventually my memory and cognition became so impaired I could no longer work. I knew I was tired but had no idea why I had no memory and could not keep a train of thought. The diagnosis: CFS.

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