Traumatized Children at Risk for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers have found that traumatized children are at significant risk for the development of chronic fatigue syndrome, though the exact mechanism is unclear.

According to research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, childhood trauma may promote neuroendocrine dysfunction that endures into adulthood, manifested by decreased salivary cortisol levels following sleep, seen in those exposed to childhood trauma with chronic fatigue syndrome. Cortisol levels are normally highest upon awakening. Abnormal cortisol levels are linked to depression, decreased immune function, and lack of homeostasis, or balance in the body. Normally, cortisol levels rise and fall throughout the day. Higher levels in the morning provide the body with needed energy. According to study author, Christine Heim, associate professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at Emory University, "If cortisol is missing, the body and brain might not be optimally adapting to stress."


The current research found that 62% of adults who experience chronic fatigue reported being exposed to sexual abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse in childhood, compared to 24% of adults without traumatic childhood experiences. The risk of chronic fatigue syndrome, associated with trauma during childhood, was six fold, according to Dr. Heim.

The current study was designed to find an association between chronic fatigue syndrome and neuroendocrine dysfunction. Past studies have attributed chronic fatigue (CF) to a variety of causes, including virus, or immune response. Symptoms of chronic fatigue include fatigue, muscle aches and headache, mimicking symptoms of flu or virus. Chronic fatigue syndrome can make cause severe tiredness, restricting daily activities.

The new research brings new light to a possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. The study authors concluded, "Our results confirm childhood trauma as an important risk factor of CFS. In addition, neuroendocrine dysfunction, a hallmark feature of CFS, appears to be associated with childhood trauma." The study results could provide an impetus for further research leading to targeted therapies that can prevent the development of chronic fatigue syndrome in traumatized children, as well as those who develop chronic fatigue from unidentified causes.

Source: Childhood Trauma and Risk for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


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