Chronic fatigue syndrome may linger after COVID-19 recovery, medical experts say

Medical experts believe that some patients who recover from COVID-19 can develop a long-term illness known as chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), according to a June 2020 letter published in the peer-reviewed journal Medical Hypotheses.

An estimated 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans suffer from CFS/ME, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 90% of people with the illness may not have not been formally diagnosed.

People with CFS/ME can be overwhelmed by extreme fatigue and are sometimes confined to their beds, according to the CDC.

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Any sort of activity, physical or mental, can also possibly exacerbate CFS/ME symptoms, causing a particular ailment known as post-exertional malaise (PEM). A person who suffers from PEM as a result of having CFS/ME could experience symptoms for six months or longer, according to the CDC.

In previous years, doctors observed patients who had recovered from SARS and developed CFS/ME-like illnesses over the course of nearly 20 months, which ultimately prevented those patients from returning to work, the letter stated. CFS/ME costs the U.S. economy about $17-$24 billion annually in medical bills and lost income, the CDC said.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is most common in people between 40 and 60 years old, but the illness also affects children, adolescents, and adults of all ages, according to the CDC. Among adults, women are diagnosed with CFS/ME at a higher rate than men.

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A doctor who authored the letter published in Medical Hypotheses described the case of a 42-year-old male patient who had recovered from COVID-19 on April 15, 2020. The patient reached out to doctors again after experiencing CFS/ME-like symptoms, including extreme fatigue and insomnia.

The patient had no preexisting conditions prior to contracting COVID-19, leading experts to believe the cause of his CFS/ME was the novel coronavirus.

“It may be that early intervention and supportive treatments at the end of the acute phase of COVID-19 can help overcome acute phase symptoms and prevent them in becoming longer-term consequences,” the experts said in the letter. “Without this, in a contracted future economy (at least in the short to intermediate term), managing these likely Post COVID-19 syndrome cases, in addition to existing CFS/ME cases will place additional burden on our already hard pressed healthcare system.”

Authors of the letter suggested further study needs to be done to help prevent recovered COVID-19 patients from developing the condition.

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Scientists are still learning about the varying short and long-term effects of the novel coronavirus, including kidney failure, temporary loss of smell and possible hair loss.

FOX 11 and Austin Williams contributed to this report.