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December 19, 2007 — One of the most difficult
things for people suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is that
many believe the condition to be a psychological, not physical
New research by the Faculty of Kinesiology hopes to measure one of
the syndrome's most obvious symptoms -- information that could help
doctors in the diagnosis CFS.
"Diagnosis of the syndrome, generally follows eliminating every
other possible cause, which leads some to speculate that the condition
isn't real," says Dr. Brian MacIntosh. "One thing we know is that CFS
sufferers feel profound fatigue and worsening of other symptoms
following even moderate physical activity. Using our expertise in the
field of exercise physiology we believe we can measure this post
exertion malaise and say with certainty if an individual has recovered
from exercise or if that activity is making them even more fatigued."
MacIntosh, who is the Faculty of Kinesiology's Associate Dean of
Graduate Studies, is an expert in the area of muscle fatigue. Much of
his research has centered on high-performance athletes in peak physical
condition, however he says that this research fits in well with his
overall area of interest.
"The tools we have developed in high performance sport are perfectly
suited to track muscle fatigue in this application so without question
we will be able to get some concrete answers," he says.
The research trial will put CFS patients on a stationary bike to
perform a VO2 Max test -- similar to trials used to evaluate the
fitness level of professional athletes. The individual will pedal to
the point of fatigue, at which point researchers will take several
measurements including a blood sample in which lactate will be
quantified. The next day the patient will return and follow the same
"Most healthy individuals should be able to easily match their
performance from the previous day," MacIntosh explains. "Since CFS
patients by definition report profound fatigue from even moderate
physical exertion and take greater than 24 hours to recover, we would
expect to see a decrease in their physical performance and we should be
able to measure that in several ways."
This work may shed some light on whether the fatigue experienced by
people with CFS is primarily in the muscles or in the nervous system.
MacIntosh believes that the results of this work could lead to a
definitive diagnosis of CFS, giving another tool in the otherwise
limited toolbox of diagnostic tests and perhaps, more importantly, shed
some light on the broader issue of human muscle fatigue.
"We've all experienced fatigue in our lives," says MacIntosh. "For
example when we have the flu or any similar illness, we feel that
fatigue makes our arms and legs feel like they're made of lead... I'm
hoping that this research may lead to a greater understanding of human
muscle fatigue in general."
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