Gulf War illness and chronic fatigue syndrome are two distinct brain disorders

New research released in Brain Communications suggests that they are actually distinct conditions.

2 min read

Although symptoms of Gulf War illness (GWI) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) overlap, new research released in Brain Communications suggests that both are actually distinct conditions.

The new study, initiated at Georgetown University Medical Center, made the distinction after examining the brain imaging scans of veterans with either GWI or CFS.

Common symptoms among both conditions include cognitive problems, pain, and fatigue after strenuous exercise.

In the findings, the brain imaging scans unveiled that the brains of the participants with GWI behaved differently compared to the participants with CFS on similar tasks.

“Exercise had two predominant effects on brain activity in neural substrates of working memory and cognitive function. In GWI, exercise caused a reduction in BOLD signal in the posterior midbrain, but in ME/CFS it caused an increase in operculo-insular cortical activation,” the findings state.

Researchers observed a reduction in brain activity in the periaqueductal gray and cerebellum among the veterans with GWI. The participants with CFS, however, demonstrated an increase in activity in the periaqueductal gray, in addition to areas of the cerebral cortex.

Healthy participants were not subjected to any changes in those areas of the brain, researchers noted.

“Now that CFS and GWI have been shown to affect different regions of the brain, these regions can be more closely examined using neuroimaging and other techniques to further our understanding of the similarities and differences between the two illnesses,” said James Baraniuk, co-author of the study.

All-in-all, researchers hope the findings strongly advises on the distinction between both the conditions, as some medical institutions define one condition as a symptom of another. This, in turn, could lead to more refined future treatments.

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