Panel: Let's Do Away With 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome'

Institute of Medicine wants to call it 'systemic exertion intolerance disease'
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2015 8:45 AM CST
Panel: Let's Do Away With 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome'
In a Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 photo, University Cincinnati sophomore Sara Whitestone handles some of the many medications she takes for chronic fatigue syndrome, which confines her to a wheelchair much of the time.   (AP Photo/The Cincinnati Enquirer, Jeff Swinger)

After mounting pressure from patients and clinicians alike, a 15-member panel representing the Institute of Medicine yesterday formally recommended renaming "chronic fatigue syndrome"—which was selected in 1988—so that it more accurately describes the illness without resulting in "trite comments," as one researcher tells the New York Times. (One nickname from the '80s: "yuppy flu.") The top choice? "Systemic exertion intolerance disease." The goal is to better capture the key diagnostic criteria of the illness, which include post-exertional malaise, six months of profound yet unexplained fatigue, unrefreshing sleep, and either cognitive problems or the inability to stand upright for more than a short period of time.

The panel agreed that the old name "has done a disservice to many patients," of which there are thought to be a million in the US alone, while the new name "really describes much more directly the key feature of the illness, which is the inability to tolerate both physical and cognitive exertion," one researcher tells the Times. A commentary author from the University of Miami writes in Annals of Internal Medicine that while a new name isn't going to improve the lives of people suffering from the illness, an improved research agenda, clinician knowledge, and acceptance are steps in the right direction, reports the American College of Physicians in a press release. Whether the new name will stick is, of course, anyone's guess. (An obscure retrovirus has been found in two-thirds of sufferers.)

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