Introduction/purpose: Numerous studies have assessed physical function in individuals suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) but neglected to match control subjects according to current activity levels, consequently casting doubt on reported results. The purpose of this study was to include current activity levels as one criterion for matching CFS subjects with healthy control subjects in order to more accurately assess physical function in these subjects.
Methods: Thirty-one healthy control subjects were matched to CFS subjects according to age, gender, body mass, height, and current activity levels. Physiological function was assessed weekly over a 4-wk period using a submaximal cycle test.
Results: Comparison of absolute physiological results recorded at the end of each incremental work level of the exercise test showed that ratings of perceived effort (RPE) was the only variable that was significantly different between the two groups. Scores for RPE were significantly higher in CFS subjects for each incremental work level assessed. Conversely, results recorded on completion of the exercise test showed that the control group was capable of a greater power output than the CFS group as reflected by significantly higher scores for watts per kilogram (P < 0.0005), net lactate production (P = 0.003), oxygen uptake (mL x kg(-1) x min(-1); P < 0.0005), respiratory exchange ratio (P = 0.021), and HR values as a percentage of age predicted HR(max) (P = 0.001). End-point RPE scores were again significantly higher in the CFS group (P < 0.0005).
Conclusion: It is proposed that the reduced exercise tolerance in CFS is due to impairment in the mechanisms that constitute effort sense and/or to avoidance behaviors that result in a reluctance by these subject to exercise to full capacity.