Perceived exertion in fatiguing illness: civilians with chronic fatigue syndrome

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Apr;35(4):563-8. doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000058360.61448.6C.


Purpose: It has been reported that ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) are elevated in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). However, methodological limitations have rendered this conclusion suspect. The purpose of the present investigation was to examine RPE during exercise in civilians with CFS by comparing subjects at both absolute exercise stage and relative oxygen consumption reference criteria.

Methods: A sample of 39 civilian females (N = 19 CFS, 34 +/- 7 yr; N = 20 healthy controls, 33 +/- 7 yr) underwent a maximal exercise test on a treadmill. RPE were obtained during the last 15 s of each 3-min stage using Borg's 6-20 scale.

Results: There were no significant differences in peak [OV0312]O(2), RER, or RPE. However, controls exercised longer (20.0 +/- 1.1 vs 15.9 +/- 1.1 min, P = 0.01, healthy vs CFS) and had higher peak HR (183 +/- 3 vs 174 +/- 2 bpm, P = 0.03, healthy vs CFS). Civilians with CFS reported higher RPE at stages 3 through 5 compared with controls (F(3,111)= 3.6,P = 0.017). Preexercise fatigue ratings were not a significant predictor of perceived exertion during exercise. There were no group differences (F(1,37)= 1.9, P = 0.17) when RPE were expressed relative to peak [OV0312]O(2).

Conclusions: Our results show that RPE are greater in civilians with CFS when the data are expressed in terms of absolute exercise intensity. However, by examining RPE relative to a common maximum (i.e., peak [OV0312]O(2)) no differences were observed. The findings of the present investigation challenge the notion that RPE are dysregulated in CFS.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Exercise Test
  • Exercise*
  • Fatigue
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Perception*
  • Physical Endurance*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Severity of Illness Index