NPR

NIH Study Aims To Unravel The Illness Known As 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome'

Researchers do not know what causes people with the condition now known as ME/CFS to suffer debilitating exhaustion and other symptoms that make many everyday activities all but impossible.
Brian Vastag suffers from myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS for short. He is part of an NIH study of the disease, which is commonly called chronic fatigue syndrome. Source: Miriam Tucker for NPR

In July 2012, a science reporter for The Washington Post, Brian Vastag, was in Wisconsin visiting his family when a high fever hit. He became instantly bedridden with flu-like symptoms that never went away.

"It didn't feel like anything I'd ever had before. ... The things that distinguished it were the dizziness and the feeling of unreality in the head," Vastag says.

Now, nearly five years later, the 45-year-old can no longer concentrate or read even a few sentences without becoming exhausted. A short walk to the mailbox means lying down for the rest of the day. In September, he'll qualify for Medicare due to his disability.

That level of severity isn't the picture most people, including doctors, think of when they hear the term "chronic fatigue syndrome." But that was the diagnosis Vastag finally received after 18 months of visiting numerous doctors, submitting countless vials of blood and initially being misdiagnosed with West

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR2 min readPolitics
Opinion: Hong Kong Protesters Might Bother Tourists, Or Pierce Their Conscience
The Hong Kong protesters are appealing to U.S. authorities and to international travelers as they press their government to keep its distance from Beijing.
NPR3 min read
Darkness And Beauty Go Hand In Hand In 'Black Light'
In her debut collection, Kimberly King Parsons writes with the unpredictable power of a firecracker, bringing flashes of illumination to sharp, compassionate stories about longing and disappointment.
NPR3 min read
Devastating Banana Fungus Arrives In Colombia, Threatening The Fruit's Future
A fungus that has destroyed banana plantations in Asia is now in Latin America. The disease moves slowly, but there's no cure, and it could mean calamity for the continent's banana industry.