Individuals who experience trauma during childhood appear more likely to develop chronic fatigue syndrome as adults, according to a report in the January issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. In addition, neuroendocrine dysfunction—or abnormalities in the interaction between the nervous system and endocrine system—appears to be associated with childhood trauma in those with chronic fatigue syndrome, suggesting a biological pathway by which early experiences influence adult vulnerability to illness.
Chronic fatigue syndrome affects as many as 2.5 percent of
Christine Heim, Ph.D., of Emory University School of Medicine,
Individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome reported higher levels of childhood trauma—exposure to trauma was associated with a six-fold increase in the risk of having the condition. Sexual abuse, emotional abuse and emotional neglect were most closely associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. Patients with the syndrome also were more likely than controls to have depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cortisol levels were decreased in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who experienced childhood trauma, but not in those with chronic fatigue syndrome who had not been subjected to trauma. Therefore, stress early in life may cause a biological susceptibility to chronic fatigue syndrome, the authors note.
“Our results confirm childhood trauma as an important risk factor of chronic fatigue syndrome,” they write. “In addition, neuroendocrine dysfunction, a hallmark feature of chronic fatigue syndrome, appears to be associated with childhood trauma. This possibly reflects a biological correlate of vulnerability due to early developmental insults. Our findings are critical to inform pathophysiological research and to devise targets for the prevention of chronic fatigue syndrome.”
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66:72-80.