by Roger Zotti
“People should know that it’s a real illness that has specific criteria for it to be diagnosed,” says Morris Papernik, MD. “People who are suffering from fatigue which is overwhelming and does not seem to improve, even though they get enough sleep, should be talking to their physician. It’s an illness that does not have a blood test or a specific marker for it. Therefore, it’s a diagnosis of exclusion. The physician has to make sure there is not anything else that can be causing fatigue, and if you fit the criteria, and nothing else shows up, the patient can definitely be a candidate for this diagnosis.”
Dr. Papernik, a member of a private medical practice at ProHealth Physicians Group, Glastonbury, is talking about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). He is one of four physicians in the country serving on the federal Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee of the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Papernik says, “There’s no magic bullet for CFS. For instance, if the patient has strep throat he would be given penicillin. CFS is more of an illness that would be treated symptomatically. The patient should be aware there is therapy for this illness and patients do get better.”
A clinician and researcher, board certified in internal medicine, and a member of the faculty of the UConn Medical School, Dr. Papernik defines the illness’s symptoms “as a medical condition which results in severe debilitating fatigue, accompanied by cognitive dysfunction and sleep disorder.”
As for the biggest misconception about CFS, Dr. Papernik says it’s thinking “these people are just plain tired. They look fine and healthy, so why can’t they get up and just get going?” That’s not the case, of course, and to better understand the illness, Dr. Papernik tells his students and residents “to make believe they have a bad cold and the feeling of fatigue [accompanying the cold] just never goes away – and that’s how a person with CFS feels every day.”
Here’s a startling statistic: Four million Americans suffer from CFS, and less than twenty percent are diagnosed. According to Dr. Papernik, the reasons for the small number are “misconceptions about the illness and a somewhat lack of acceptance in the medical community.” Other reasons are, he says, “physicians often have difficulty in making the diagnosis and accepting it as a diagnosis, and so they tend to blow these people off.” In turn, many CFS sufferers turn to a psychiatrist because they believe they’re depressed. But after they learn that they aren’t depressed – that something else happening to them – they become discouraged. “Patients then feel like it’s their fault and they don’t bother getting diagnosed and treated,” Dr. Papernik says.
For more information about CFS, visit www.cfids.org. Also, as part of a national public awareness campaign to educate the public and health care professionals about CFS, a traveling photo exhibit, The Faces of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, was displayed in Center Court, Westfield Meriden, 470 Lewis Avenue, Meriden, June 15-21.