Background: Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) often make somatic attributions for their illness which has been associated with poor outcome. A tendency to make somatic attributions in general may be a vulnerability factor for the development of CFS.
Methods: This cross-sectional study based on self-report questionnaire data aimed to investigate the type of attributions for symptoms made by patients with CFS and to compare this to attributions made by their partners. It was hypothesized that patients with CFS would make more somatic attributions for their own symptoms than control subjects and that partners of patients with CFS would make more somatic attributions for their ill relative's symptoms but would be similar to controls regarding their own symptoms. Fifty patients with CFS were compared to 50 controls from a fracture clinic in the same hospital and 46 relatives living with the patients with CFS. A modified Symptom Interpretation Questionnaire was used to assess causal attributions.
Results: CFS patients were more likely to make somatic attributions for their symptoms. The relatives of patients with CFS made significantly more somatic attributions for symptoms in their ill relative. However, they were like the fracture clinic controls in terms of making predominantly normalizing attributions for their own symptoms.
Conclusions: The data support modification of existing cognitive behavioural treatments for CFS to investigate whether addressing partners' attributions for patients' symptoms improves recovery in the patient. Furthermore, a tendency to make somatic attributions for symptoms may be a vulnerability factor for the development of CFS.