Researchers are still trying to understand what causes CFS so
they can find a cure.
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“We think that it’s caused by an infection that results in
long-term abnormalities in the body’s nervous system and immune
response, but this is all theoretical,” says Rowe. Although
researchers can’t pin down the viral or bacterial infection,
there is evidence that CFS is linked to nervous system and
“Some studies have found elevated levels of inflammatory
cytokines in the patients’ cerebral spinal fluid, which usually
show up when a flu or cancer happens,” Fleming says. This
suggests that CFS might cause an immune
activation in the central nervous system, or autoimmunity.
“We also think there’s an issue with the autonomic nervous
system, which controls involuntary body functions, because many
patients have a hard time getting blood flow to the brain when
upright and develop a rapid heart rate,” Rowe says.
There’s another theory that CFS is caused by central
sensitization, Fleming says, which basically means someone
is hypersensitive to stimuli like noise, light, heat, cold, or
electricity. So their brain sends abnormal pain signals to the
central nervous system from normal stimuli that doesn’t bother
other people. It could explain why CFS patients feel so much
pain, get frequent headaches, or feel so exhausted from
exercise, Fleming says.