Chronic Fatigue Syndrome May Just Be a Case of Persistent Burnout

by Jenna Mallon (’18)

Chronic fatigue

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) affects .0007 to 2.8% of the adult population and can be highly debilitating. Unfortunately, its etiology is unknown. The two current theories, the cognitive behavioral theory and the viral theory, do not fully explain the occurrence of certain symptoms of the syndrome. Current research focuses on dysfunction in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which can lead to hypocortisolism and a low HPA response level, a common side effect experienced by many patients with CFS.

Independent researcher David Jameson has theorized that CFS is just a state of chronic burnout, or chronic emotional exhaustion, caused by excessive workload. Jameson believes that since a specific stressor, such as an illness, initiates both burnout and CFS, CFS can occur if burnout symptoms persist over an extended period of time without any treatment or alleviation. This persistence can be caused by irregularities in the HPA axis leading to poor regulation of stress. More evidence still needs to be uncovered in order to help support this theory. Hopefully, studies involving the HPA axis and cortisol levels will help determine if there is a correlation between burnout and CFS.



  1. Jameson, Persistent burnout theory of chronic fatigue syndrome. Neuroscience & Medicine, 7, 66-73 (2016), doi: 10.4236/nm.2016.72008.
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