CNN Food and Health

Doctors link low blood pressure to chronic fatigue

September 27, 1995
Web posted: 12:54 a.m. EDT

Medical Correspondent Jeff Levine

BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- Doctors have been largely baffled by chronic fatigue syndrome. But now researchers have developed a treatment for this disabling condition. A type of low blood pressure appears to be the key.

Katie Lucas was so disabled by chronic fatigue syndrome, she could barely get out of bed, or perform simple tasks. "I remember one occasion having to take out a calculator to subtract twelve from thirty-two," she said. "That's pretty bad."

An estimated 1 million patients in the U.S. suffer from this frustrating disorder, most of them women.

"There's no diagnostic test to establish the diagnosis, and there's no known treatment for this condition," said Hugh Calkins, a doctor developing treatment for the disease at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute.

Based on their work with adolescents, Calkins and his colleagues began to suspect a link between chronic fatigue and a sudden drop in blood pressure. The experience caused the teen-agers to faint and left them weak.

[Table] The Johns Hopkins team duplicated the results in 23 adults. As in this demonstration, the chronic fatigue patients were strapped down to a tilt table, then gradually moved upright to a 70 degree angle. (791k QuickTime movie)

[Chart] "At minute 43 you can see the patient's blood pressure drop suddenly from 125 down to 45 and their heart rate dropped from about 110 to 80, and the patient passed out," Calkins said.

The good news is that this drastic blood pressure drop can be reversed by boosting water and salt intake and taking drugs. The Hopkins doctors say about 75 percent of the study group got better.

"Not everybody gets better on this form of treatment, that's one thing we'd like to emphasize, but those who do often have very dramatic improvements," said Peter Rowe, Calkins' colleague at Johns Hopkins.

"I'm running up the stairs and skipping stairs, which I never did before," said chronic fatigue patient Carolyn Boies. "It's the first time I felt well in probably four years." (85k AIFF sound)

But doctors admit they need to do a bigger study, comparing the treatment to a dummy pill, something that is being done in cooperation with the National Institutes of Health.

[Instrument] "They know what they're doing, but their observations need to be born out in larger studies, and the therapies they're proposing need to be tested," said Dr. Stephen Straus of the National Institutes of Health

The Johns Hopkins researchers stress that they haven't developed a cure for chronic fatigue syndrome. But finally there appears to be a treatment that can revitalize many who suffer from this mysterious condition.



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