Background: The Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory (MFI-20) was developed in 1995. Since then, it has been widely used in cancer research and cancer-related illnesses but has never been validated in fatiguing illnesses or in a large US population-selected sample. In this study, we sought to examine the reliability and validity of the MFI-20 in the population of the state of Georgia, USA. Further, we assessed whether the MFI-20 could serve as a complementary diagnostic tool in chronically fatigued and unwell populations.
Methods: The data derive from a cross-sectional population-based study investigating the prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in Georgia. The study sample was comprised of three diagnostic groups: CFS-like (292), chronically unwell (269), and well (222). Participants completed the MFI-20 along with several other measures of psychosocial functioning, including the Medical Outcomes Survey Short Form-36 (SF-36), the Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale (SDS), and the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). We assessed the five MFI-20 subscales using several criteria: inter-item correlations, corrected item-total correlations, internal consistency reliability (Cronbach's alpha coefficients), construct validity, discriminant (known-group) validity, floor/ceiling effects, and convergent validity through correlations with the SF-36, SDS, and STAI instruments.
Results: Averaged inter-item correlations ranged from 0.38 to 0.61, indicating no item redundancy. Corrected item-total correlations for all MFI-20 subscales were greater than 0.30, and Cronbach's alpha coefficients achieved an acceptable level of 0.70. No significant floor/ceiling effect was observed. Factor analysis demonstrated factorial complexity. The MFI-20 also distinguished clearly between three diagnostic groups on all subscales. Furthermore, correlations with depression (SDS), anxiety (STAI), and functional impairment (SF-36) demonstrated strong convergent validity.
Conclusions: This study provides support for the MFI-20 as a valuable tool when used in chronically unwell and well populations. It also suggests that the MFI-20 could serve as a complementary diagnostic tool in fatiguing illnesses, such as CFS.