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Stress can lead to chronic fatigue later in life

07.11.2006
Stress can have repercussions later in life in the form of chronic fatigue, according to a new study from Karolinska Institutet.

People who considered their lives to be stressful at the start of the 1970s today suffer more often from chronic fatigue than others. The study was carried out with data from the Swedish Twin registry.

Chronic fatigue is a condition characterised by long-lasting and abnormal exhaustion, often accompanied by concentration impairment, mood swings, insomnia and pain in the muscles and joints. Despite extensive research, no root causes have been identified; all that scientists know so far is that it seems to appear across all ages and social classes in many different countries.

A research group from Karolinska Institutet has now been able to show that one of the direct causes of chronic fatigue is stress. Using the results from a health survey conducted amongst almost 20,000 twins from the Swedish Twin registry in 1973 and of a repeat survey of the same population in 1998 (which contained questions about chronic fatigue), the researchers found that the group who claimed to have stressful lives 25 years previously ran a 65 per cent greater chance of developing chronic fatigue than those who did not.

The scientists also noted a correlation between emotional instability and chronic fatigue. By limiting the analysis to identical twins, the researchers were able to dismiss any causal relationship. Instead, the correlation should be interpreted as there being genetic factors that are important for both emotional instability and chronic fatigue. Using the same method, the team has been able to show that stress does actually have a direct impact on the risk of developing chronic fatigue.

“This is a very important step towards understanding a disease that we know very little about,” says Professor Nancy Pedersen, who has led the study. “Before we can develop effective treatments, we have to understand the underlying mechanisms.”

Publication:
“Premorbid predictors of chronic fatigue”,
Kenji Kato, Patrick F. Sullivan, Birgitta Evengård and Nancy L. Pedersen
Archives of General Psychiatry, 6 November 2006

Katarina Sternudd | alfa
Further information:
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