Chronic Fatigue

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What happens to people who have an illness that is not fully accepted by the medical community, a disease for which no positive diagnostic tools exist, and for which no successful protocols for treatment exist? This describes an illness known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in the U.S. and myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E.) in Western Europe and Australia. According to the summary of findings from the 2004 Annual Research and Clinical Conference of the American Association of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an estimated 800,000 people in the U.S. may have CFS/ME. Researchers estimate that only 10-17% of CFS/ME cases have been properly diagnosed (Lapp 2005). Studies by the Center for Disease Control estimate that the prevalence of CFS may range from 75 to 265 persons per 100,000 population (2005). Actual numbers are difficult to ascertain because many medical practitioners do not “believe in” CFS/M.E. and attribute their patient’s symptoms to depression, psychiatric problems, or malingering (Health Source 2002; Beaulieu 2000).

CFS/ME is characterized by multiple symptoms such as severe exhaustion, cognitive difficulties, muscle and joint pain, migraine or other debilitating headaches as well as a host of other symptoms (; Ware 1992; Richman Jason, Taylor, and Jahn 2000). CFS/ME first gained attention in the mid-1980s when a mysterious illness that seemed to be striking young professionals was labeled “the yuppie flu” (Palca 1991). Physicians were unable to explain the cause of the illness and many dismissed it as psychosomatic problems (Palca 1991, Richman, Jason, Taylor, and Jahn 2000). However, physical symptoms such as swollen glands, severe headaches, cognitive problems, and balance problems convinced some...

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...and Medical Students.” Journal of Health and Human Behavior. 5:1, pp. 25-34.

Palca, Joseph. 1991. “On the Track of an Elusive Disease.” Science: 254 pp. 1726-1728.

Richman, Judith A., Leonard A. Jason, Renee R. Taylor, and Susan C. Jahn. 2000. “Feminist Perspectives on the Social Construction of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Health Care for Women International: 21, pp. 173-185.

Ware, Norma C. 1992. “Suffering and the Social Construction of Illness: The Delegitimation of Illness Experience In Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly (Vol 6, No 4). pp. 347-361.

Whitford, Gwenith. (1995) “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Putting Together the Pieces.” Herizons 9:3, pp. 19-21.

Wolinsky, Fredric D., and Sally R. Wolinsky. (1981). “Expecting Sick-Role Legitimation and Getting It.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 22:3, pp.229-242.
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