fMRI distinguishes Gulf War illness from chronic fatigue

By AuntMinnie.com staff writers

August 11, 2020 -- Functional MRI (fMRI) shows that Gulf War illness and chronic fatigue syndrome are two different illnesses, according to a study published August 10 in Brain Communications.

Chronic fatigue syndrome and Gulf War illness share a number of symptoms, such as cognitive problems, pain, and fatigue following mild to moderate exercise. But fMRI showed that the two conditions show different abnormal brain activity after moderate exercise.

The results that could help shape more effective treatment of veterans with Gulf War illness, said a team led by Stuart Washington, PhD, of Georgetown University, in a statement.

Using fMRI, Washington's group imaged 111 veterans (31 of whom were healthy controls), finding that those with Gulf War illness showed diminished brain activity "in the periaqueductal gray, a pain processing region within the brainstem, and in the cerebellum, a part of the brain responsible for fine motor control, cognition, pain, and emotion."

Meanwhile, study participants with chronic fatigue syndrome showed "increased activity in the periaqueductal gray and in parts of the cerebral cortex related to maintaining vigilance and attention," the authors said in the statement. Healthy subjects showed no such changes in the brain.

"Now that chronic fatigue syndrome and Gulf War illness 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," co-author Dr. James Baraniuk said. "Once this new information is adopted broadly, diagnoses and treatments for both disorders should improve."


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