Chronic fatigue syndrome and idiopathic intracranial hypertension: Different manifestations of the same disorder of intracranial pressure?

Med Hypotheses. 2017 Aug;105:6-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2017.06.014. Epub 2017 Jun 24.


Though not discussed in the medical literature or considered in clinical practice, there are similarities between chronic fatigue syndrome and idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) which ought to encourage exploration of a link between them. The cardinal symptoms of each - fatigue and headache - are common in the other and their multiple other symptoms are frequently seen in both. The single discriminating factor is raised intracranial pressure, evidenced in IIH usually by the sign of papilloedema, regarded as responsible for the visual symptoms which can lead to blindness. Some patients with IIH, however, do not have papilloedema and these patients may be clinically indistinguishable from patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Yet IIH is rare, IIH without papilloedema (IIHWOP) seems rarer still, while chronic fatigue syndrome is common. So are the clinical parallels spurious or is there a way to reconcile these conflicting observations? We suggest that it is a quirk of clinical measurement that has created this discrepancy. Specifically, that the criteria put in place to define IIH have led to a failure to appreciate the existence, clinical significance or numerical importance of patients with lower level disturbances of intracranial pressure. We argue that this has led to a grossly implausible distortion of the epidemiology of IIH such that the milder form of the illness (IIHWOP) is seen as less common than the more severe and that this would be resolved by recognising a connection with chronic fatigue syndrome. We hypothesise, therefore, that IIH, IIHWOP, lesser forms of IIH and an undetermined proportion of chronic fatigue cases are all manifestations of the same disorder of intracranial pressure across a spectrum of disease severity, in which this subset of chronic fatigue syndrome would represent the most common and least severe and IIH the least common and most extreme.

Keywords: Chronic fatigue syndrome; Headache; Idiopathic intracranial hypertension; Idiopathic intracranial hypertension without papilloedema.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Pressure / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Papilledema / physiopathology
  • Pseudotumor Cerebri / diagnosis
  • Pseudotumor Cerebri / epidemiology
  • Pseudotumor Cerebri / physiopathology*