What Causes ME/CFS?

The cause of ME/CFS is a topic of much research and debate, but researchers have not been able to determine one single factor.

Triggering ME/CFS
Multiple factors may be simultaneously involved and in the right conditions they trigger ME/CFS. These factors may include infection, severe physical trauma such as major surgery or a serious accident, psychological stress and exposure to chemicals, environmental pollutants or heavy metals.

Not all ME/CFS sufferers can identify a triggering event/factor. It is still unclear how such a process occurs but researchers have been concentrating their efforts on the central nervous system and the ways that stressful events such as injury and infection can affect how the brain functions.

1. Chronic Infections
A lot of research has focused on the possibiltiy of a viral or infectious agent because many of the signs and symptoms of ME/CFS are similar to those of a lingering viral illness. While not everyone with ME/CFS shows signs of infection, many do. Many support the theory that some ME/CFS is caused at least in part by a virus.

2. A New Retrovirus: XMRV (Xenotropic MuL V-Related Virus)
XMRV is a new human retrovirus discovered in 2009. Scientists found a potential retroviral link to ME/CFS. Researchers from the Whittemore Peterson Institute, the National Cancer Institute, and the Cleveland Clinic, report this finding online in the Oct. 8, 2009 issue of Science.

Currently there are only three known infectious human retroviruses : HIV, HTLV1 & 2 and now XMRV. HIV causes AIDS and HTLV-1 & 2 causes T-cell leukemia and T-cell lymphoma. XMRV is linked to neurological disease and prostate cancer. The importance of this finding cannot be overstated.

The research being done on XMRV at the Whittemore Peterson Institue (WPI), in Reno, Nevada suggests, but does not prove, that XMRV may be the underlying cause of ME/CFS. This is a very significant discovery. Further work needs to be done to understand how XMRV causes disease and what types of diseases are linked to it.

The WPI’s initial research showed that 67% of the CFS/ME patient samples tested positive for XMRV. Additional research found that 95% tested positive. This finding proves a major correlation between this new retrovirus and ME/CFS, fibromyalgia and other neuro-immune diseases. By the way, 3.7% of 201 healthy controls (non ME/CFS patient samples) also tested positive for this new retrovirus.

The Whittemore Peterson Institute has developed a blood test for the detection of XMRV. More information is available by visiting the VIP Dx Lab at www.vipdx.com. I would suggest you wait until June 1st, 2011 as the WPI’s Dr. Judy Mikovits is working to develop more accurate testing.

If you want to find out more about the Whittemore Peterson Institute and its ground-breaking work you can go to its website: http://www.wpinstitute.org/index.html

3. Central Nervous System Dysfunction
ME/CFS usually begins with an external event/factor and then results in central nervous system damage.The areas of the brain involved in stress response, energy production, concentration, motivation, fatigue and pain are damaged in ME/CFS.

4. Immune System Abnormalities
Research has shown immune abnormatities in ME/CFS sufferers, but researchers have not found a consistent pattern of irregularities. Among the most common are allergies and an overactive immune system. These problems suggest the immune systems of ME/CFS patients could have trouble finding pathogens and killing the cells they’ve infected.

While ME/CFS appears to have a few similarities with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis or lupus in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy parts of the body, most researchers now believe ME/CFS is probably not caused by autoimmunity since there does not appear to be any markers of organ damage in ME/CFS.

5. Genetics
Scientists have discovered that people with ME/CFS have certain genes that reduce their body’s ability to deal with physical and psychological stress. This research links ME/CFS with genes involved in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which controls sleep and response to illness, and the sympathetic nervous system. This research shows how our body reacts to trauma, injury and stress, and found that it could predict CFS/ME with 76 per cent accuracy.

Other research demonstrates genetic dysfunction in people with ME/CFS that influences immune function and the ways cells generate energy. This suggests that some people may be genetically predisposed to ME/CFS.

6. Stressful Conditions
Studies show that your personality, psychological makeup and social environment may be factors in determining whether or not you develop ME/CFS, but the intricate relationship between these components and the cause of ME/CFS is not yet fully understood. These factors are probably not a primary cause of ME/CFS, but they undoubtedly play a role in making people susceptible.

A Combination of Factors
There is now a substantial amount of evidence from research to support what ME/CFS sufferers have always maintained : that Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not a psychological disease, nor does having it mean someone is psychologically weak or unable to cope with things. ME/CFS is caused by a combination of factors which affect how severe the condition is and how long it lasts.

Websites, blogs and other sources :

  • Fighting My War and Keeping My Peace (2011): Testing Negative Staying Positive, Paula Carnes, January 20
  • Chronicfatigue.about.com (2010): What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?, Adrienne Dellwo, June 3
  • FM/CFS/ME Resources (2010) : FAQ’s about CFS/ME
  • The Environmental Illness Resource (2003-2010) : Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalopathy
  • Science 23 (2009): Detection of an Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Mikovits JA et al., October 8, Vol. 326 no. 5952 pp. 585-589
  • Mayoclinic.com (2009): Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Causes, The Mayo Clinic staff, June 19
  • Center for Disease Control (2006) : Press Briefing on CFS, April 20
  • The Phoenix Rising Website: The Causes of ME/CFS, Cort Johnson, Webmaster and Author


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