Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & ADHD: What's the Link?

Researchers exploring a possible link between chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) say fatigue may be an important symptom of adult ADHD, and that people with ME/CFS or other types of persistent fatigue should be looked at for ADHD.

Their new study looked at three cases of ME/CFS in people who'd responded poorly to treatment. Researchers found that all three met the criteria for ADHD, and all three responded well to psychostimulant medications, which are a common part of ADHD treatment.

They say the patients saw improvements in fatigue, pain, cognitive dysfunction and other symptoms.

Researchers concluded that ADHD and ME/CFS may share a common underlying mechanism and that over time, ADHD may develop into chronic fatigue syndrome and pain. (It's unclear whether this would most appropriately be considered a new form of ADHD or a subset of ME/CFS.)

From previous research, we know that ME/CFS and ADHD both involve neurotransmitter dysregulation that may involve serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. However, that alone isn't enough to say they're related - neurotransmitters perform different jobs in different regions, and different jobs within a region based on specific receptors, so it's a complicated matter.

Some doctors do prescribe ADHD medications off-label for ME/CFS, and they work for some (but not all) people.

Some doctors have talked about a theoretical post-ADHD chronic fatigue syndrome for several years, and this research is one piece of evidence firming up that theory.

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