Fred Friedberg, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, is also President of the International Association for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. CFS is a bewildering disorder that affects a million people in the United States, and millions more around the world. Dr. Friedberg has received a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study whether heart rate fluctuations, along with certain daily activity patterns, can predict or even prevent relapse among patients suffering from CFS.
People with CFS experience a state of deep, chronic exhaustion. They may also have post-exertional collapse and difficulty with cognition. Diagnosis is made after these symptoms persist for more than six months, without a clear causation.
The NIH-funded research will have subjects reporting their symptoms and activities via a weekly online diary, over a six-month period. They will also wear mobile heart devices and activity monitors, and this data will be recorded and sent to the Stony Brook lab. There, researchers will download and analyze patterns related to the CFS symptoms, impairments and activity. Then a psychiatric nurse will interview the subjects by phone to learn more about other health challenges or life events they have experienced, as well as physical and social functioning, and whether their disease has improved or worsened.
Dr. Friedberg explains:
What is promising is that we have proposed an illness model to potentially identify the factors that lead to relapse or improvement. If a predictor of relapse is discovered, such as heart rate variability in conjunction with certain activity patterns, we may be able to prevent or reduce relapse by adjusting such activity patterns in advance. This could potentially be the first biomarker of illness worsening or improvement in this illness.
Friedberg anticipates the study data will be incorporated into a new and more effective self-management program to help patients feel and function better, while avoiding relapses.