The History of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Image of Lake Tahoe

Symptoms similar to what is now known as ME/CFS have been around for a long time. Back in the 1860s, an illness called “neurasthenia” was characterized by tiredness, headaches, and insomnia. In the 1930s, epidemics of neuromyasthenia/atypical poliomyelitis was characterized by similar symptoms. In the 1980s, there was an outbreak in Lake Tahoe, where an estimated 160 residents came down with these symptoms. These symptoms were later identified as ME/CFS. Two epidemiologists from the CDC were initially sent to investigate this outbreak, but were suspicious that the symptoms were related as they varied among the patients. Most had fatigue and joint pain, but some experienced light sensitivity, hair loss and memory problems. The epidemiologists believed the epidemic was exaggerated and possibly due to a psychological cause rather than a physical one. Their article furthered the stigma against patients with these symptoms, but after they published the report, people all over the country with similar symptoms began to contact the doctors in Lake Tahoe. There have since been other outbreaks in New York, Northern California and North Carolina. Many researchers believe these outbreaks may be due to the Epstein-Barr Virus or other viruses that send the body’s defenses and immune system into overdrive. The major health agencies today recognize that ME/CFS likely has a biological origin as hundreds of studies have found biological abnormalities.The dominant theory is that there is not a single cause for ME/CFS, most individuals recover from the Epstein-Barr virus without these long-lasting symptoms

Read more about the history of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome