Autoimmune fatigue

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

There is significant evidence indicating that chronic fatigue syndrome is a biological illness, which may be caused, in part, by an overactive immune system, often triggered by an infection.

Autoimmune based chronic fatigue

Researchers believe that in some people, acute infections can elicit an abnormal autoimmune reaction, resulting in symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Common infections including Epstein-Barr virus, herpes virus and the parvovirus B19, along with intracellular bacteria, are known to trigger the disease. 1

“In a subset of patients, ME/CFS [chronic fatigue syndrome] begins with infectious mononucleosis and evidence for a potential role of EBV in ME/CFS comes from many studies.” 1 In fact, Epstein–Barr virus and enterovirus are the two most common infectious triggers of CF.

Viruses implicated in onset of chronic fatigue syndrome

Enteroviruses, such as coxsackie, cytomegalovirus (CMV), hepatitis C, Chlamydia pneumonia, and Coxiella burnetii have also been linked with chronic fatigue syndrome. 3 Upper respiratory infections, along with varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox and shingles, have been implicated, as well. 4

ME/CFS may be a variant of an autoimmune disease, writes Fluge et al. “It may involve antibodies, is often triggered by infections, and probably involves a genetic predisposition.” 5

Other studies have also suggested that infection-induced autoimmunity could be a possible disease mechanism. 5

  In a subset of patients, infections can throw the immune system into overdrive leading to symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. 8

Infections ignite an autoimmune attack

In response to an infection, the body’s immune system produces antibodies. Normally, the antibodies attack and kill any harmful outside substance (i.e. germ, bacteria). But in a subset of patients, these “autoantibodies” mistakenly attack healthy cells (or neurons) within the brain.

“Autoantibodies against various antigens including neurotransmitter receptors have been recently identified in ME/CFS individuals by several groups, and infection by various pathogens … are known as triggers of [the] disease.” 1

This autoimmune attack causes inflammation in the brain and a range of symptoms, including extreme fatigue, brain fog, and other ME/CFS manifestations.

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Are you struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome? It may be due to an autoimmune response.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome
CFS Autoimmune Fatigue

Inflammation plays a role in chronic fatigue syndrome

It is well-recognized that inflammation plays a role in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A study utilizing PET scans showed chronic fatigue syndrome patients had inflammation in specific regions of the brain (i.e., thalamus and amygdala), which the authors suggest could induce cognitive impairment and severe fatigue. 6

Additionally, “Increased levels of the inflammatory biomarker, C-reactive protein, have been described in one of the largest CFS studies to date.” 7

CFS symptoms linked to an underlying infection-triggered autoimmune process

“In the majority of ME/CFS cases, there is no conclusive evidence for chronic viral infection, but it is plausible that viruses could act via a “hit and run” mechanism.” 8

“This theory proposes that viruses trigger the disease, cause immune abnormalities and leave a dysfunctional immune system and/or autoimmunity.” 8

While the causative agents and disease mechanisms may vary, researchers agree there is strong evidence that chronic fatigue syndrome “is associated with a range of biological abnormalities, most notably in the neuroendocrine, autonomic, neurological, bioenergetic, redox and immunological domains.” 9

  1. Franziska Sotzny, Julià Blanco, Enrica Capelli, Jesús Castro-Marrero, Sophie Steiner, Modra Murovska, Carmen Scheibenbogen. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Evidence for an autoimmune disease, Autoimmunity Reviews. Volume 17, Issue 6, 2018, Pages 601-609.
  2. Zhang L, Gough J, Christmas D, et al. Microbial infections in eight genomic subtypes of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis. J Clin Pathol. 2010;63(2):156–164.
  3. Kerr, J. Epstein-Barr Virus Induced Gene-2 Upregulation Identifies a Particular Subtype of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Front. Pediatr. 13 March 2019.
  4. Blomberg J, Rizwan M, Böhlin-Wiener A, et al. Antibodies to Human Herpesviruses in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients. Front Immunol. 2019;10:1946.
  5. Fluge Ø, Risa K, Lunde S, et al. B-Lymphocyte Depletion in Myalgic Encephalopathy/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. An Open-Label Phase II Study with Rituximab Maintenance Treatment. PLoS One. 2015;10(7):e0129898.
  6. Yasuhito Nakatomi, Kei Mizuno, Akira Ishii, Yasuhiro Wada, Masaaki Tanaka, Shusaku Tazawa, Kayo Onoe, Sanae Fukuda, Joji Kawabe, Kazuhiro Takahashi, Yosky Kataoka, Susumu Shiomi, Kouzi Yamaguti, Masaaki Inaba, Hirohiko Kuratsune, and Yasuyoshi Watanabe. Neuroinflammation in Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis: An 11C-(R)-PK11195 PET Study. J Nucl Med. 2014 jnumed.113.131045 published ahead of print March 24, 2014.
  7. Russel A. et al. Persistent fatigue induced by interferon-alpha: a novel, inflammation-based, proxy model of chronic fatigue syndrome. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Feb;100:276-285.
  8. Rasa, S. et al. Chronic viral infections in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Journal of Translational Medicine. volume 16, Article number: 268 (2018).
  9. Morris G, Maes M, Berk M, Puri BK. Myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome: how could the illness develop?. Metab Brain Dis. 2019;34(2):385–415.