This study aims to investigate the prevalence and pathophysiology of orthostatic intolerance (OI) and its potential contribution to symptoms of a group of unselected patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Seventy five patients (65 women, 10 men) with CFS were evaluated. During an initial visit, a clinical suspicion as to the likelihood of observing laboratory evidence of OI was assigned. Laboratory investigation consisted of beat-to-beat recordings of heart rate, blood pressure (Finapres), and stroke volume (impedance cardiograph) while supine and during 80 degrees head-up tilt (HUT), during rhythmic deep breathing (6 breaths/min) and during the Valsalva maneuver. The responses of 48 age-matched healthy controls who had no history of OI were used to define the range of normal responses to these three maneuvers. Forty percent of patients with CFS had OI during head-up tilt. Sixteen exhibited neurally-mediated syncope alone, seven tachycardia (> 35 bpm averaged over the whole of the head-up tilt) and six a mixture of tachycardia and syncope. Eight of 48 controls exhibited neurally-mediated syncope. The responses to the Valsalva maneuver and to deep breathing were similar in controls and patients. On average, the duration of disease and patient age were significantly less and the onset of symptoms was more often subacute in patients with OI than in those without OI. We conclude that there exists a clinically identifiable subgroup of patients with CFS and OI that differs from control subjects and from those with CFS without OI for whom treatment specifically aimed at improving orthostatic tolerance may be indicated.