Newcastle is shaping the future of treatment for chronic fatigue
Cate Titterton has lived with chronic illness for most of her life. When she was 18, Cate was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Alongside the symptoms of Crohn’s, Cate suffers with bouts of chronic fatigue, a disabling symptom that affects many patients with chronic diseases, as well as older people.
Cate explains: “Crohn’s Disease is an awful disease but if I had to choose one condition to get rid of, it would be the fatigue. To some extent I can manage the Crohn’s Disease but I can never predict when fatigue is going to happen, so you constantly have to adapt your life around it. Fatigue is so debilitating but it’s a poorly understood condition.
“People often say ‘if you’re tired, go and lie down’ but it’s so much more than that. Fatigue feels like a brain fog that you can’t get rid of, and it’s almost like a dampening of the senses. It stops your enjoyment of things.”
Chronic fatigue is the principal reason for 5% of GP consultations, and a key reason for patients having to stop work or reduce working hours.
There is currently no effective treatment for chronic fatigue – but researchers from the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) are working to change this.
Research into fatigue is a key priority for the BRC – experts from across all the BRC’s eight research themes collaborate, with the ambition to carry out more high-quality research in fatigue and translate scientific findings into benefits for patients.
Earlier this year, researchers from across the NIHR Newcastle BRC spoke about their work at the North East Fatigue Research Symposium (pictured right).
And now researchers, patients and carers are invited to join the North East Fatigue Research Network – a group that aims to develop research strategies and promote the importance of fatigue research.
Wearable technology could improve treatments
A key barrier for finding treatments is the lack of accurate and reliable methods to measure fatigue.
Professor Wan-Fai Ng is the NIHR Newcastle BRC’s co-theme lead for Musculoskeletal Disease and Inflammation Medicine and director of the NIHR Newcastle Clinical Research Facility. He is also honorary consultant rheumatologist at Newcastle Hospitals and professor of rheumatology in the Translational and Clinical Research Institute at Newcastle University.
He leads the IDEA-FAST project, a €42 million project funded by the EU Innovative Medicine Initiative, where digital approaches are being researched to assess fatigue and sleep disturbance, providing more reliable results that can inform new treatments.
He explains: “One of the most common symptoms of chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis are problems with fatigue and disturbed sleep.
Among patients with these diseases, fatigue is often rated as one of the most disabling symptoms, affecting their daily activities and their quality of life. Despite this, monitoring these symptoms often relies on simply asking patients to fill in a questionnaire about their experiences. This method can be affected by patients misremembering things and not having enough detail about the intensity of their fatigue throughout the day.
“One way to provide more accurate and reliable results is for chronic disease patients to wear small devices to monitor these physiological signals throughout the day.”
Recent research, led by Professor Ng and funded by the BRC, suggested that wearable technologies can reliably measure fatigue and disturbed sleep in chronic disease – meaning more accurate results.
Until a treatment is found, Cate is kindly volunteering her time to get involved in the research. She is a patient advisor on the IDEA-FAST project and encourages people to get involved with research.
She says: “It’s been fantastic to be a patient advisor and explain how it feels to have the condition. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given. The level of care I’ve had taking part in trials has been amazing, the doctors and nurses are so kind.
“If people are thinking about getting involved in research, then I would say don’t be nervous. It’s been amazing for me. It’s such a vital thing to volunteer for, this will help people longer term so speak to your clinicians in the NHS.”
Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospitals are both part of Newcastle Health Innovation Partners (NHIP). NHIP is one of eight prestigious Academic Health Science Centres (AHSCs) across the UK, bringing together partners to deliver excellence in research, health education and patient care.