About 1-4 million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS, and they are often accused of being hypochondriacs — their very real symptoms are met with skepticism by family and friends.

But for those who suffer from the often debilitating symptoms of CFS, the added skepticism only makes their situation worse. Symptoms include fatigue for six months or longer, having a hard time concentrating, sore throat, tender or enlarged lymph nodes, digestive issues, headaches, food intolerances, blood pressure and/or heart rate issues, joint or muscle pain, poor sleep and general malaise. 

Although the symptoms range from uncomfortable to severe, they aren’t easily understood or even seen by others. That's just one reason this new study is so important: it gives validation to those who suffer. Stanford researchers found that there were significant differences in the brains of those who suffer from CFS compared to the brains of healthy individuals. In results published in the Oct. 28th issue of Radiology, the Stanford scientists discussed at least three major differences

Chronic fatigue syndrome patients were found to have less white matter in the brain (the nerve tracts that carry information from one part of the brain to another part), according to WebMD. It’s possible that this could be linked to chronic inflammation or infections because this is known to have an effect on white brain matter. 

The researchers also found a specific brain abnormality in a nerve bundle that connects the frontal lobe to the temporal lobe. And finally, they found that there was a thickening of grey matter in certain areas of the brain. 

These findings will need to be confirmed by future research, but the study should help researchers pinpoint the cause of chronic fatigue and help those who suffer from it get proper treatment. 

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