Mortality of people with chronic fatigue syndrome: a retrospective cohort study in England and Wales from the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust Biomedical Research Centre (SLaM BRC) Clinical Record Interactive Search (CRIS) Register

Lancet. 2016 Apr 16;387(10028):1638-43. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)01223-4. Epub 2016 Feb 10.


Background: Mortality associated with chronic fatigue syndrome is uncertain. We investigated mortality in individuals diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in secondary and tertiary care using data from the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust Biomedical Research Centre (SLaM BRC) Clinical Record Interactive Search (CRIS) register.

Methods: We calculated standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) for all-cause, suicide-specific, and cancer-specific mortality for a 7-year observation period using the number of deaths observed in SLaM records compared with age-specific and sex-specific mortality statistics for England and Wales. Study participants were included if they had had contact with the chronic fatigue service (referral, discharge, or case note entry) and received a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Findings: We identified 2147 cases of chronic fatigue syndrome from CRIS and 17 deaths from Jan 1, 2007, to Dec 31, 2013. 1533 patients were women of whom 11 died, and 614 were men of whom six died. There was no significant difference in age-standardised and sex-standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) for all-cause mortality (SMR 1·14, 95% CI 0·65-1·85; p=0·67) or cancer-specific mortality (1·39, 0·60-2·73; p=0·45) in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome when compared with the general population in England and Wales. This remained the case when deaths from suicide were removed from the analysis. There was a significant increase in suicide-specific mortality (SMR 6·85, 95% CI 2·22-15·98; p=0·002).

Interpretation: We did not note increased all-cause mortality in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, but our findings show a substantial increase in mortality from suicide. This highlights the need for clinicians to be aware of the increased risk of completed suicide and to assess suicidality adequately in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Funding: National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / mortality
  • England / epidemiology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / epidemiology*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Wales / epidemiology