You can find references to patients who were extremely fatigued for no apparent reason as far back as ancient Greece and Socrates, says Morris Papernik, MD, internist with ProHealth Physicians Group in Glastonbury, Conn., and a member of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first defined chronic fatigue syndrome as an illness that starts with symptoms that feel like the flu, causes such severe fatigue that people are forced to cut their activity level in half, and can’t be attributed to any other illness, psychiatric or medical.
The Recent History of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
In the 1980s and early ’90s, chronic fatigue syndrome was referred to as the “yuppie flu,” and the Epstein-Barr virus was thought to have played a role, Dr. Papernik says. Other theories about its origins have included everything from enteroviruses (small viruses that are made of ribonucleic acid and protein) and herpes to childhood trauma. But most have been dismissed because of their prevalence in the general population and because no one infectious organism has been linked to all patients.
Because no single cause has been found, many researchers now believe there may be multiple causes of chronic fatigue syndrome and that it strikes people who are susceptible because of their genetics or environment. Also, because no cause has been found, there is no cure for chronic fatigue — only attempts at providing chronic fatigue help to ease symptoms.