Summary: Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia are two poorly understood and related health issues. Both conditions are on the rise. People living with these issues are relatively healthy, and their regular lab tests do not show many changes. However, researchers now think both these conditions occur due to certain changes in the brain. The latest studies suggest that these conditions might occur due to neurovascular coupling issues, which result in dysregulation of blood flow to certain brain areas.
Incidences of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia are rising in the US. Yet, there is little progress in understanding these health conditions. Though there are many hypotheses about what causes these health conditions, there is still no firm evidence to support those hypotheses.
Though CFS and fibromyalgia are different conditions, they do share some traits. Those living with CFS mainly complain about fatigue that is not related to any physical ailments. Those living with fibromyalgia primarily complain about body aches, have several points of tenderness, and yet appear quite healthy.
These two conditions might differ, but they share many traits. Like, most of the people living with these conditions are relatively healthy. It means that lab tests do not show any severe health issues. Quite often, these conditions occur after recovering from certain ailments like Lyme disease or covid.
These conditions are not just about fatigue or body aches. They are also about mood swings, depression, anxiety, brain fog, inability to focus on things, physical weakness, and much more. In the long run, both conditions are pretty debilitating.
However, there is no dependable test to confirm the diagnosis of CFS or fibromyalgia. Thus, these conditions remain the diagnosis of exclusion. It means that doctors confirm the diagnosis of these conditions only after excluding other health issues.
Since there are no reliable tests to diagnose these conditions, studying these health issues is quite challenging. It is also quite difficult to monitor treatment progress. Moreover, there are no effective drugs to treat these issues. Thus, doctors often treat patients using trial-and-error methods. Some may benefit from painkillers, others from antidepressants, and others from various health supplements.
However, suppose we want to find effective diagnosis methods and treatments for these conditions. In that case, we need to understand the pathology of these disease conditions better. It means that it is vital to understand the underlying mechanism causing these chronic and debilitating conditions.
Since, in both conditions, most lab tests are relatively normal, in recent years, researchers have concluded that these conditions have something to do with changes in the brain. Thus, both conditions are now regarded as brain disorders causing fatigue, changes in energy levels, mood changes, memory changes, and pain.
Keeping in mind that both these conditions cause many symptoms characteristic of brain health issues, doctors have now started to look deep inside the brain to understand CFS and fibromyalgia. They are using advanced brain scans to see what brain changes are associated with these disease conditions.
In recent years, some researchers have proposed that both these conditions occur due to neurovascular coupling. This means that blood flow in various brain regions does not change according to requirement, causing fatigue, memory issues, lack of focus, and body aches.
Neurovascular coupling is a phenomenon through which the brain adapts to changes in energy demand, allowing more blood to flow to specific brain areas, thus delivering more oxygen and glucose. Moreover, it is worth understanding that the brain is an energy-hungry organ. It utilizes almost 20% of the oxygens. Hence, any disruption in the mechanism that controls proper blood supply to various brain parts may cause issues.
All this means that neurovascular coupling is essential for maintaining brain functioning and normal brain activity. However, changes in this function may cause changes in sensory perception, motor control, memory, cognition, and more. It appears that neurovascular coupling is regulated by various neurotransmitters. Thus, dysregulation of these neurotransmitters causes issues related to neurovascular coupling. At present, this area is the focus of ongoing research, and many new imaging studies suggest that researchers are working in the right direction.