Objective: To investigate cardiorespiratory and perceptual responses to exercise in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), accounting for comorbid fibromyalgia (FM) and controlling for aerobic fitness.
Methods: Twenty-nine patients with CFS only, 23 patients with CFS plus FM, and 32 controls completed an incremental bicycle test to exhaustion. Cardiorespiratory and perceptual responses were measured. Results were determined for the entire sample and for 18 subjects from each group matched for peak oxygen consumption.
Results: In the overall sample, there were no significant differences in cardiorespiratory parameters between the CFS only group and the controls. However, the CFS plus FM group exhibited lower ventilation, lower end-tidal CO2, and higher ventilatory equivalent of carbon dioxide compared with controls, and slower increases in heart rate compared with both patients with CFS only and controls. Peak oxygen consumption, ventilation, and workload were lower in the CFS plus FM group. Subjects in both the CFS only group and the CFS plus FM group rated exercise as more effortful than did controls. Patients with CFS plus FM rated exercise as significantly more painful than did patients with CFS only or controls. In the subgroups matched for aerobic fitness, there were no significant differences among the groups for any measured cardiorespiratory response, but perceptual differences in the CFS plus FM group remained.
Conclusion: With matching for aerobic fitness, cardiorespiratory responses to exercise in patients with CFS only and CFS plus FM are not different from those in sedentary healthy subjects. While CFS patients with comorbid FM perceive exercise as more effortful and painful than do controls, those with CFS alone do not. These results suggest that aerobic fitness and a concurrent diagnosis of FM are likely explanations for currently conflicting data and challenge ideas implicating metabolic disease in the pathogenesis of CFS.