While medical science doesn't yet understand chronic fatigue syndrome terribly well, the general consensus is that it involves some kind of immune dysfunction. Many experts believe the immune system is stuck in overdrive.
It's not yet clear whether there's an active infection by virus or bacteria or whether the immune system just acts like there is, but these are all areas of on-going research. For you to understand what's going on in your body, understand test results, communicate with your doctor and make informed treatment decisions, it's helpful to know the meanings of immunological terms.
However, to truly understand this illness you need to go beyond immunity. It's important to understand other systems that may be involved, as well as the symptoms you're dealing with. A lot of controversy surrounds chronic fatigue syndrome – even its name. That can complicate your research if you don't know what alternate names to look for.
The Immune System
The immune system is complex and involves a lot of specialized cells and enzymes that fight viral and bacterial invaders. Several of these immunological warriors may be present at abnormal levels in people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Some doctors may want to check your levels, or you may want to ask about being tested.
Virus and Bacteria of Interest
These half-dozen infectious agents have been the topic of a lot of chronic fatigue syndrome research, but results have generally been mixed. Some researchers have dismissed them in connection with the illness, while some fervently believe that one or more of them are involved – at least in particular subgroups.
Again, some but not all doctors may test you for these, either before or after your diagnosis. If you want to be tested, you may have to ask.
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)
- Human Herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6)
- Lyme Disease
Treatment for these pathogens, if they're found, is also controversial. Here's more information on treating your condition: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatment Options.
Other Important Terms
Several other terms are important for understanding your symptoms, discussing them with your doctor and forming a treatment plan.
You can learn more about the many possible symptoms of the condition here: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms.
What is ME?
As you read about chronic fatigue syndrome, you're likely to come across references to ME, ME/CFS and CFS/ME. Here's what those names mean:
ME isn't the only alternate name you'll find out there. Also see: Why Does Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Have So Many Names?
Communicating with Your Doctor
With chronic fatigue syndrome, diagnosis, testing and treatment are all difficult. It can really help to find a good doctor, then establish and maintain a positive relationship. These resources can assist you in that: