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Suzanne D. Vernon, PhD

Suzanne D. Vernon , PhD, is the Research Liaison at Bateman Horne Center of Excellence which specializes in treatment and research for ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia and the Chief Scientific Revolutionary of The BioCollective, a collaborative that provides storage and sales of microbiome samples for research and development.

From November 2007 to May 2015, Dr. Vernon was the Scientific Director of Solve ME/CFS Initiative, formerly known as CFIDS Association of America. While there she recognized that access to well-characterized clinical populations was a barrier to engaging more scientists in ME/ CFS research. Thus, she started the Research Institute Without Walls (RIWW), "the first nonprofit patient-centered research initiative focused on identifying diagnostic biomarkers and disease-modifying treatment for ME/ CFS. The core of RIWW is the SolveCFS BioBank & Patient Registry.

From May 1990 to October 2007, Dr. Vernon worked for the US Centers for Disease Control , first on the team investigating the human papillomavirus as an opportunistic infection in HIV-infected woman, and then in 1997, she became the CFS research group team leader, under William Reeves , MD, the Director of the CDC Chronic Fatigue Research Program.

In 2005, Dr Vernon was one of the authors of the CDC case definition of CFS , commonly called the Reeves criteria .

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How is chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosed?

Ask the Expert

Q: How is chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosed?

A: Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome, is diagnosed by excluding known medical and psychiatric illnesses that also exhibit fatigue and similar symptoms. It is important to diagnose these conditions because treatments may be available. Some diseases eliminate a diagnosis of CFS, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or a severe psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia. It would not provide any benefits in these cases to have a second diagnosis.

Diseases that also have fatigue include: hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, alcohol or substance abuse, severe obesity, lupus, multiple sclerosis, cancer, depression, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and dementia.

The current diagnostic criteria for CFS specify unexplained, persistent fatigue that's not due to ongoing exertion, isn't substantially relieved by rest, started recently and leads to significant reduction in previous activity levels. They also require the presence of at least four of the following symptoms: unrefreshing sleep, impairment in short-term memory or concentration, post-exertional malaise occurring within 12 to 24 hours of exertion and lasting 24 hours or more, joint pain without joint swelling or redness, muscle discomfort or pain, headaches of a new type or severity, recurrent sore throat and tender lymph nodes in the neck and underarms.

Multiple subjective symptoms are also reported. These are not included in the current diagnostic criteria, but they are reported with relative frequency. These include: irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal complaints, allergy-like symptoms, skin rashes, visual disturbances, dizziness, numbness and tingling in arms and legs, sensitivities to various chemicals, dry eyes, chills, night sweats and alcohol and medication intolerances.

Some CFS patients also report mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety or depression. However, many people with CFS don't have depression or any other psychiatric illness. Depression may be a secondary effect of CFS, not necessarily a primary condition, as people attempt to cope with the changes in lifestyle that living with a chronic illness dictates. Still, if you are anxious or depressed, it's essential to get help.

Allergies also tend to be more common in CFS patients than in the general population. Many CFS patients have a history of allergies years before the onset of the syndrome. Sometimes patients report a worsening of allergic symptoms or the onset of new allergies after becoming ill with CFS. Because allergies are so common in people with CFS, it is important to identify symptoms caused by allergies so they can be treated independently.

Your health care professional should take a thorough medical history and conduct extensive physical and mental status examinations, including laboratory tests.

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