When does an illness become a disease? When the underlying biological abnormalities that cause the symptoms and signs of the illness are clarified.
The illness now called myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) was first described in the mid-1980s. At that time, nothing was known about its underlying biology. Indeed, because many standard laboratory test results were normal, some clinicians explained to patients that “there is nothing wrong.” There was, of course, an alternative explanation: the standard laboratory tests might not have been the right tests to identify the underlying abnormalities.
Komaroff AL. Advances in Understanding the Pathophysiology of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. JAMA. 2019;322(6):499–500. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.8312
Best of JAMA Network 2022
Customize your JAMA Network experience by selecting one or more topics from the list below.