On Monday i went to a talk by Prof. Julia Newton, and i am working on blogging about how that went. In the meantime, here is an article about her research, which was published in The Journal:
Standing up for fatigue
Julia Newton explains how new research is enabling us to have a greater understanding of chronic fatigue.
By Julia Newton (photograph attached), Professor of Ageing and Medicine, Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University
At this time of year many of us feel tired, partly due to the weather, just having celebrated the festive season, and having to contend with winter viruses. But for around 250,000 people in Britain, the symptoms are about more than just being tired a lot. This is how many people are estimated to suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS or ME/CFS.
Those who suffer from ME/CFS are so run down that it interferes with their lives and can make it hard to function at all. The severity varies, but typically people with ME/CFS say they have trouble staying on top of their responsibilities at home and on the job. Others are severely disabled and even bedridden. Furthermore, they’re not just dealing with extreme fatigue but with a wide range of other symptoms, including flu-like symptoms and chronic pain.
At Newcastle University, we are trying to find out more about the biological basis of ME/CFS. It is an illness which was, at one time, written off by many as being all in the mind. But, the Department of Health now accepts ME/CFS as a genuine medical condition. However, diagnosis can still pose a problem because ME/CFS symptoms are similar to those present in a number of other medical conditions.
Fatigue is a distressing symptom that can affect people with a range of chronic diseases or occur in those with ME/CFS. Over two hundred medical publications have suggested that people suffering from fatigue have problems with their vascular system. Our research is exploring what the biological basis of fatigue in ME/CFS is. We have shown that those with chronic fatigue also have problems with blood pressure regulation which in turn has important consequences for muscle, cardiac and brain function.
Our bodies’ autonomic nervous system is responsible for subconscious activities that occur in the body such as respiration, bladder and bowel function. It is also integral to the maintenance of cardiovascular functions such as maintenance of heart rate and blood pressure. Cases where the autonomic nervous system is not working properly, particularly in the case of low blood pressure, or hypotension, are also frequently found in people who have symptoms of fatigue. Our programme of research aims to understand the role of autonomic dysfunction in the step by step development of fatigue. We hope that this will help develop new interventions which will help target and treat these autonomic nervous system abnormalities.
When this goes wrong, the consequences can be severe. So, for instance, one of the main consequences is being unable to stand for long without suffering ill effects. Some of the difficulties that CFS/ME patients face is standing, particularly standing still, without experiencing dizziness, altered vision, nausea and fatigue. Therefore we are hoping that a thorough assessment of autonomic nervous system function might help to identify a cure, which has proved so illusive up to now.
I have been investigating fatigue in people with the autoimmune liver disease primary biliary cirrhosis. I discovered that among this group of patients, abnormalities of the autonomic nervous system contributed to their fatigue and this in itself is related to low blood pressure and abnormalities of sleep. In addition, the fatigue in these patients was associated with excess mortality, which could also be linked with autonomic abnormalities. We have found in our research a clear and significant association between ME/CFS and the symptoms of autonomic dysfunction which we hope are bringing us closer to finding better ways to treat this debilitating illness.
Julia Newton is speaking at Café Culture’s event – Standing up for Fatigue: The Biological Basis of ME/CFS on Monday 19 January at the Urban Café, Dance City from 7 to 9pm. The event is free and open to all. For more details visit http://www.cafeculturenortheast.org.uk/