Migraine headaches in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS): comparison of two prospective cross-sectional studies

BMC Neurol. 2011 Mar 5:11:30. doi: 10.1186/1471-2377-11-30.


Background: Headaches are more frequent in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) than healthy control (HC) subjects. The 2004 International Headache Society (IHS) criteria were used to define CFS headache phenotypes.

Methods: Subjects in Cohort 1 (HC = 368; CFS = 203) completed questionnaires about many diverse symptoms by giving nominal (yes/no) answers. Cohort 2 (HC = 21; CFS = 67) had more focused evaluations. They scored symptom severities on 0 to 4 anchored ordinal scales, and had structured headache evaluations. All subjects had history and physical examinations; assessments for exclusion criteria; questionnaires about CFS related symptoms (0 to 4 scale), Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory (MFI) and Medical Outcome Survey Short Form 36 (MOS SF-36).

Results: Demographics, trends for the number of diffuse "functional" symptoms present, and severity of CFS case designation criteria symptoms were equivalent between CFS subjects in Cohorts 1 and 2. HC had significantly fewer symptoms, lower MFI and higher SF-36 domain scores than CFS in both cohorts. Migraine headaches were found in 84%, and tension-type headaches in 81% of Cohort 2 CFS. This compared to 5% and 45%, respectively, in HC. The CFS group had migraine without aura (60%; MO; CFS+MO), with aura (24%; CFS+MA), tension headaches only (12%), or no headaches (4%). Co-morbid tension and migraine headaches were found in 67% of CFS. CFS+MA had higher severity scores than CFS+MO for the sum of scores for poor memory, dizziness, balance, and numbness ("Neuro-construct", p = 0.002) and perceived heart rhythm disturbances, palpitations and noncardiac chest pain ("Cardio-construct"; p = 0.045, t-tests after Bonferroni corrections). CFS+MO subjects had lower pressure-induced pain thresholds (2.36 kg [1.95-2.78; 95% C.I.] n = 40) and a higher prevalence of fibromyalgia (47%; 1990 criteria) compared to HC (5.23 kg [3.95-6.52] n = 20; and 0%, respectively). Sumatriptan was beneficial for 13 out of 14 newly diagnosed CFS migraine subjects.

Conclusions: CFS subjects had higher prevalences of MO and MA than HC, suggesting that mechanisms of migraine pathogenesis such as central sensitization may contribute to CFS pathophysiology.

Clinical trial registration: Georgetown University IRB # 2006-481

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00810329.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / drug therapy
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self Report
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sumatriptan / therapeutic use*
  • Tension-Type Headache / epidemiology


  • Sumatriptan

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00810329