Relationship of brain MRI abnormalities and physical functional status in chronic fatigue syndrome

Int J Neurosci. 2001 Mar;107(1-2):1-6. doi: 10.3109/00207450109149754.


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is an unexplained illness that is characterized by severe fatigue. Some have suggested that CFS is a "functional somatic syndrome" in which symptoms of fatigue are inappropriately attributed to a serious illness. However, brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data suggest that there may be an organic abnormality associated with CFS. To understand further the significance of brain MRI abnormalities, we examined the relationship between MRI identified brain abnormalities and self-reported physical functional status in 48 subjects with CFS who underwent brain MR imaging and completed the Medical Outcomes Study SF-36. Brain MR images were examined for the presence of abnormalities based on 5 general categories previously shown to be sensitive to differentiating CFS patients from healthy controls. There were significant negative relationships between the presence of brain abnormalities and both the physical functioning (PF) (rho=-.31, p=.03), and physical component summary PCS (rho=-.32, p=.03) subscales of the SF-36. CFS patients with MRI identified brain abnormalities scored significantly lower on both PF (t(1,46) =2.3, p=.026) and the PCS (t(1,41) =2.4, p=.02) than CFS subjects without an identified brain abnormality. When adjusted for age differences only the PF analysis remained significant. However, the effect sizes for both analyses were large indicating meaningful differences in perceived functional status between the groups. These results demonstrate that the presence of brain abnormalities in CFS are significantly related to subjective reports of physical function and that CFS subjects with MRI brain abnormalities report being more physically impaired than those patients without brain abnormalities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / abnormalities*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / diagnosis*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*