Fatigue in multiple sclerosis: current understanding and future directions

J Rehabil Res Dev. Mar-Apr 2002;39(2):211-24.


Fatigue is a very common symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS). Theoretically, fatigue may be related to neuromodulation by soluble products of the autoimmune process or by disruption of central nervous system pathways necessary for sustained activity, but little empirical evidence supports these possibilities. Amantadine, pemoline, and modafanil improved fatigue in placebo-controlled clinical trials, but these studies all had significant limitations. Difficulty measuring fatigue has impeded studies of its characteristics, mechanisms, and therapeutics. Most studies have relied on self-report questionnaires. These may be inappropriate, however, because they can be easily confounded by other symptoms of MS, they are entirely subjective, and they require patients to make difficult retrospective assessments. Studies of fatigue would be improved by including measures of more rigorously defined, quantifiable components of fatigue. For example, motor fatigue can be measured as the decline in strength during sustained muscle contractions. Cognitive fatigue can be measured as the analogous decline in cognitive performance during tasks requiring sustained attention. Lassitude is defined as a subjective sense of reduced energy, and it can be measured with the use of a visual analog diary. These measures provide reproducible results and demonstrate significant differences between MS patients and healthy controls. Dividing fatigue into these components can provide objective assessments that are less likely to be confounded by other symptoms of MS, such as weakness, spasticity, cognitive impairment, and depressed mood.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods
  • Fatigue / etiology*
  • Fatigue / physiopathology
  • Fatigue / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis
  • Muscle Fatigue*
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome