(CNN) -- People with chronic fatigue syndrome are exhausted, no matter how much rest they get, for more than six months at a time. They suffer from muscle and joint pain and may experience short-term memory loss.
But diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome is difficult, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There’s no blood test or brain scan that definitively identifies the condition, so doctors must first rule out many other disorders with similar symptoms.
A new discovery may change that.
Scientists at Stanford University compared the brain MRI scans of 15 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome with the scans of 14 healthy patients of the same age and gender. They found that the patients with chronic fatigue syndrome had slightly less white matter in their brains. White matter contains your brain’s communication cables, which enable regions of the brain to talk to each other.
The scientists also saw abnormalities in a specific tract in the patients’ right hemispheres and found that two connection points in the brains of the chronic fatigue patients were thicker than the same connection points in the healthy patients.
“The differences correlated with their fatigue—the more abnormal the tract, the worse the fatigue,” study author Dr. Michael Zeineh said in a statement.
The results of the study were published this week in the journal Radiology.
The study was small, and Zeineh says the research needs to be duplicated with more patients to confirm the results. But it offers hope to those with undiagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome.
“Most CFS patients at some point in time have been accused of being hypochondriacs and their symptoms dismissed by others,” Zeineh told Today Health. “And there is still skepticism in the medical community about the diagnosis. That’s one of the reasons these findings are important.”
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