Illness trajectories in the chronic fatigue syndrome: a longitudinal study of improvers versus non-improvers

J Nerv Ment Dis. 2010 Jul;198(7):486-93. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e3181e4ce0b.


The natural progression of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in adults is not well established. The aims of this longitudinal study were to (a) compare CFS Improvers and Non-Improvers; (b) determine whether an initial diagnosis of fibromyalgia (FM) was associated with CFS nonimprovement; and (c) determine whether this effect could be explained by the presence of nonspecific physical symptoms. Consecutive referrals to a tertiary clinic that satisfied case criteria for CFS were invited to enroll in a longitudinal study. After an initial on-site physical examination and psychiatric interview, a total of 94 female care-seekers completed biannual telephone surveys, including the Short Form-36 physical functioning (PF) scale, over a period of 2(1/2) years. There were very few differences between Improvers and Non-Improvers at baseline but at final assessment Improvers had less disability, less fatigue, lower levels of pain, fewer symptoms of depressed mood, and fewer nonspecific physical complaints. Participants with FM at baseline were 3.23 times (p < 0.05) more likely to become Non-Improvers than those without FM. Participants identified initially as Somatizers were 3.33 times (p < 0.05) more likely to become Non-Improvers. Patients with CFS who bear the added burden of FM are at greater risk of a negative outcome than patients with CFS alone. This effect could not be explained by the presence of multiple, nonspecific symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Adult
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / therapy
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / diagnosis
  • Fibromyalgia / psychology
  • Fibromyalgia / therapy
  • Humans
  • Illness Behavior*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Prognosis
  • Psychometrics
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology
  • Somatoform Disorders / therapy