A systematic review of chronic fatigue, its syndromes and ethnicity: prevalence, severity, co-morbidity and coping

Int J Epidemiol. 2009 Dec;38(6):1554-70. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyp147. Epub 2009 Apr 6.

Abstract

Background: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is characterized by unexplained fatigue that lasts for at least 6 months alongside a constellation of other symptoms. CFS was historically thought to be most common among White women of higher socio-economic status. However, some recent studies in the USA suggest that the prevalence is actually higher in some minority ethnic groups. If there are convincing differences in prevalence and risk factors across all or some ethnic groups, investigating the causes of these can help unravel the pathophysiology of CFS.

Methods: A systematic review was conducted to explore the relationship between fatigue, chronic fatigue (CF--fatigue lasting for 6 months), CFS and ethnicity. Studies were population-based and health service-based. Meta-analysis was also conducted to examine the population prevalence of CF and CFS across ethnic groups.

Results: Meta-analysis showed that compared with the White American majority, African Americans and Native Americans have a higher risk of CFS [Odds Ratio (OR) 2.95, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.69-10.4; OR = 11.5, CI: 1.1-56.4, respectively] and CF (OR = 1.56, CI: 1.03-2.24; OR = 3.28, CI: 1.63-5.88, respectively). Minority ethnic groups with CF and CFS experience more severe symptoms and may be more likely to use religion, denial and behavioural disengagement to cope with their condition compared with the White majority.

Conclusions: Although available studies and data are limited, it does appear that some ethnic minority groups are more likely to suffer from CF and CFS compared with White people. Ethnic minority status alone is insufficient to explain ethnic variation of prevalence. Psychosocial risk factors found in high-risk groups and ethnicity warrant further investigation to improve our understanding of aetiology and the management of this complex condition.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • African Americans / psychology
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Denial, Psychological
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / epidemiology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / ethnology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / pathology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / psychology
  • Indians, North American / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Minority Groups / psychology
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Whites / psychology
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data