Alternative diagnoses to chronic fatigue syndrome in referrals to a specialist service: service evaluation survey

JRSM Short Rep. 2012 Jan;3(1):4. doi: 10.1258/shorts.2011.011127. Epub 2012 Jan 12.


Objective: To assess the accuracy of diagnoses made by referrers to a chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) service.

Design: Retrospective service evaluation surveys of both rejected referral letters and medical case-notes after full clinical assessment.

Setting: A specialist CFS clinic in London, UK.

Participants: In the first survey, we assessed rejected referral letters between March 2007 and September 2008. In the second survey, we ascertained the primary diagnosis made in case-notes of 250 consecutive new patients assessed between April 2007 and November 2008.

Main outcome measures: Reasons for rejection of referrals and primary diagnosis in those assessed.

Results: In the first survey, 154 out of 418 referrals (37%) were rejected. Of these, 77 out of the available 127 referrals (61%) had a likely alternative diagnosis. In the second survey of clinically assessed patients, 107 (43%) had alternative medical/psychiatric diagnoses, while 137 out of 250 (54%) patients received a diagnosis of CFS. The commonest alternative medical diagnoses of those assessed were sleep disorders and the commonest alternative psychiatric diagnosis was depressive illness. Altogether 184 of 377 (49%) patients had alternative diagnoses to CFS.

Conclusions: Half of all the referred patients to a specialist CFS clinic had alternative medical and psychiatric diagnoses. Specialist medical assessment for patients with unexplained, disabling, chronic fatigue needs to incorporate both medical and psychiatric assessments.