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REVAL (UHasselt) is an interdisciplinary and translational research center which performs research in the domains of pediatric, neurologic and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, biomechanics, health psychology, mental health care and rehabilitation of internal diseases. The Research group on Health- and Rehabilitation Psychology specializes in Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS) – bodily symptoms for which no sufficient diagnosed organic disease can be found, as is the case in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.
The Laboratory for Brain-Gut Axis Studies (LaBGAS, KU Leuven) is an internationally renowned research group specialized in, among others, biopsychological mechanisms of functional gastrointestinal disorders with expertise in psychobiological measures and neuroimaging techniques such as PET and fMRI. Both research groups start from the conviction that a narrow biomedical disease model ignores the fact that self-reported health complaints are always the result of a complex cerebral integration of afferent signals from the body (bottom-up) and perceptual-cognitive and affective (top-down) processes (= symptom perception). Combining the results of symptom perception research with stress physiological and neurobiological data allows us to transcend dualistic thinking and understand physical complaints from a biopsychosocial perspective. Through experimental and clinical research both groups contribute to the further identification of the underlying biopsychosocial mechanisms of MUS and its translation into more refined treatment components. The current interuniversity PhD project is part of the FWO (Research Foundation Flanders)-sponsored research project “Identifying (psycho)physiology-based subgroups in chronic fatigue syndrome and their relevance for rehabilitation” granted to Prof. Dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove (LaBGAS, KULeuven) and Prof. Dr. Katleen Bogaerts (REVAL, UHasselt).
About 20 000 people in Belgium suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a disorder characterized by persisting fatigue insufficiently explained by known medical or psychiatric conditions. Individuals suffering from CFS experience severe limitations in daily functioning due to their fatigue. Despite intensive research over the past decades, the (psycho)physiological dysfunctions generating CFS symptoms remain poorly understood, and no diagnostic biomarkers for CFS have been identified. Consequently, current treatment options for CFS are limited. Moreover, CFS research has been hampered by emotional dualistic debates about the “psychological” versus “somatic” nature of the disorder, without paying much attention to the possible interactions between physiological and psychological aspects.
Dysfunction of several (psycho)physiological systems, such as the neuroendocrine stress response system, the immune system, and the central nervous system (including neuroinflammation and changes in functional connectivity in the brain) has been shown in CFS. Health psychology research, on the other hand, has demonstrated distortions in symptom perception in CFS. However, both research lines have not sufficiently been integrated, which is necessary for an integrative biopsychosocial model of CFS. Because different processes seem to play a role, it is plausible that underlying CFS pathophysiology is not the same for every patient.
The aims of this interuniversity (KULeuven and UHasselt) research project are:
The research project runs in close collaboration with UPC KU Leuven and the Multidisciplinary Diagnostic Centre for CFS (UZ Leuven).