CFS occurs in both sexes, at all ages, and in all racial and ethnic groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 1 million people in the U.S. have the disease, and millions more have similar symptoms but do not meet the full criteria for a diagnosis of CFS. Fewer than 20% of CFS patients in this country have been diagnosed, according to the CDC.
Age and Gender
People who are in their 40s and 50s most often experience chronic fatigue. Studies have found that four out of five people with CFS are women, although women do not appear to have more severe symptoms than men with the disorder.
Children and adolescents can also have CFS, although it is less common than in adults. Most studies indicate that girls are more likely than boys to develop CFS.
Depression and Psychological Factors
Depression is very common in the general population. It affects up to one-fifth of all Americans at some point in their lives, and most depressed people feel fatigued.
The link between psychological disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome is problematic because so many of the symptoms overlap. The rates of depression are very high in CFS patients, possibly higher than in patients with other conditions (notably fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivity).
Depression can lead to suicide, which may explain the increased rate of death in people with CFS. For this reason, depression should be diagnosed and treated promptly in patients with CFS.
Studies report that most children and adolescents with CFS have psychiatric disorders. Psychological factors during childhood may increase susceptibility for CFS later in life, although studies have not found any consistent association between emotional or personality disorders and CFS to explain any causal role. Some psychological factors may, however, be risk factors for CFS.
There is some evidence that stress may trigger CFS in people who are genetically at risk for the disease. People who experienced trauma during childhood -- including sexual and emotional abuse -- are significantly more likely to develop chronic fatigue syndrome than those who did not experience any trauma. Researchers say that the stress of abuse may trigger the condition through its effects on the central nervous system, immune system, and neuroendocrine system. However, many people who experience childhood trauma do not go on to develop CFS.
Conditions That Commonly Occur in CFS Patients
Review Date: 01/10/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.