Objective: To gain insight into the prevalence and treatment of severe fatigue in general practice.
Design: Secondary data analysis.
Method: By means of an episode-oriented morbidity registration by 54 GPs throughout the Netherlands over the period 1985-1994 it was established how often in the course of one year 'fatigue' was listed as the reason for consultation, what diagnoses were then made, how long episodes of care because of 'fatigue' lasted and what interventions took place (n = 93,297). Of the patients with a care episode because of 'fatigue' lasting at least 6 months, age, sex, comorbidity and consumption of care were established; for this purpose use was also made of a file containing data on 4 years in succession (n = 9630).
Results: Per annum, 92 per 1000 listed patients consulted the GP because of fatigue. Somatic or psychic diagnoses were made in 27.7 per 1000 patients listed. The episode of care lasted 4 weeks at most in 86% and at least 6 months in approximately 4%. The GPs' management of patients with 'fatigue' included physical examination in 63% and blood testing in 34%, conversation in 35%, prescription of medication in 24% and referral to a specialist in 3%. Of the 97 patients with fatigue lasting longer than 6 months, 61% had a chronic disease or psychic problems.
Conclusion: Fatigue is frequently encountered in general practice, but the estimate that one per 1000 listed patients meets the criteria of the chronic fatigue syndrome looks a little high. It appears that GPs, in accordance with recommendations, mostly adopt a policy of wait and see.