For many years, patients who went to their doctors complaining of severe fatigue, trouble concentrating, and memory problems were quickly dismissed by medical professionals. Called lazy, complainers, and hypochondriacs, medical professionals told patients that their illness was all in their head. More recently, physicians have diagnosed these patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, but only at the end of a long process of inconclusive medical tests. No one knew much about the disease, what caused it, or how to test for it or treat it, and patients simply continued to suffer.
However, in 2009, a groundbreaking study changed the game. The study found that the retrovirus XMRV was present in the majority of members of a group of chronic fatigue syndrome patients. With that news, doctors and researchers in California and throughout the country began a renewed focus on the disease.
Chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, affects between one and four million Americans. Symptoms of the disease include extreme fatigue, debilitating pain, and issues with concentration and memory. Although chronic fatigue syndrome is included on the Social Security Administration’s listing of impairments, obtaining Social Security Disability benefits for it can be challenging simply because so little is known about it.
There is no test for chronic fatigue syndrome, mainly because the symptoms vary so much in severity and among patients. Therefore, several researchers have focused on developing a diagnostic test for the disease, in order to identify it earlier and with less strain on the patient.
In addition, researchers are simply trying to learn more about the disease, including what causes it and how best to treat it. Early results have shown some promising developments and the amount of research being done on the disease continues to increase. This means that it will likely become easier to obtain SSD benefits for the disease in the relatively near future.
Source: Wall Street Journal, “Unlocking Chronic Fatigue Syndrome“, Amy Dockser Marcus, 22 March 2011