We have now seen another example of the medicalization of distress and the emergence of a new “disease” (as opposed to a group of symptoms) according to the linked article.
While we have not yet read the report and reserve full conclusions, the release suggests nothing new in terms of science, etiologic agents, or new findings that lend meaningful clarity and a path to recovery from the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Rather, the deciding panel appears to have largely achieved a political goal of validating a syndrome of various symptoms that do not lean to any conclusions as to cause or cure. That those who claim to have CFS or whatever new name may be ascribed to it are suffering is not in question. What remains unknown is why, and whether this syndrome is caused by a lesion of some sort, a viral or bacterial pathogen. What is going on with this action?
Likely a number of things. One is that it addresses the anxiety and perceived stigma that often applies to experiences that are ill-defined and may be considered to have an emotional component, implying lack of validity for the sufferers. Noteworthy is that the panel is seeking responsive treatment and diagnostic codes. By validating a syndrome as a disease, the conversation changes to one of obligations and rights for the sufferers that they believe they lacked before.
And it implies and may create duties by others in the industry of treating diseases, including insurance carriers, employers, courts and the culture to increase the level of payment, support, acceptance and accommodation to those claiming the disease. And let’s not forget members of the medical profession, drug companies, hospitals and other parties who have a strong vested interest in adding to the list of issues for which they may/will receive payment.
The list of syndromes, new diagnoses or disorders with expanding numbers and those claiming them are many. In no particular order they include: Post-concussive syndrome, “Low-T,” erectile dysfunction (with a recent ad featuring a beautiful woman claiming that over 50% of men over 40 suffer from some form of it), Epstein Barr Virus, Autism, Post-traumatic stress disorder, Fibromyalgia, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Lyme Disease, and others. Common to many are claims of financial, educational, occupational or legal entitlement, partial exculpation from responsibility, expensive and proprietary medications, strong advocacy groups and heated arguments in the media and professions.
In short, recent “clarification” on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome likely fits more into the realm of politics than science.