Interpretation of symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome

Behav Res Ther. 2001 Nov;39(11):1369-80. doi: 10.1016/s0005-7967(00)00116-9.


Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an illness characterised by fatigue and other symptoms. Both psychological and biological aetiological factors have been proposed, but the disorder is of uncertain origin. The aetiology of the symptoms is therefore ambiguous. It has been suggested (a) that patients with CFS tend to interpret their symptoms as indicating physical illness and (b) they tend not to interpret these symptoms in terms of negative emotion. In order to test these hypotheses we developed a self-report questionnaire to assess the interpretation of symptoms in patients with CFS. It was administered to patients with CFS, patients with depression, patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), and normal controls. Preliminary results suggest that the measure has acceptable psychometric properties. Patients with CFS were more likely than either depressed patients or normal controls to interpret symptoms (characteristic of CFS) in terms of physical illness, but did not differ in this from the MS patients. When compared with all three other groups (including the MS patients), the patients with CFS were least likely to interpret symptoms in terms of negative emotional states. The theoretical and clinical implications of the findings are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / psychology
  • Personality Assessment*
  • Psychometrics
  • Reference Values
  • Sick Role
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology