Background: Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a potentially disabling disorder. Little is known about the contributors to severe forms of the illness. We describe three consecutive patients with severe ME/CFS whose symptoms improved after recognition and surgical management of their cervical spinal stenosis.
Methods: All patients satisfied clinical criteria for ME/CFS and orthostatic intolerance, and were later found to have cervical spinal stenosis. Overall function was assessed before and after surgery using the Karnofsky score and the SF-36 physical function subscale score.
Results: Neurological findings included > 3+ deep tendon reflexes in 2 of 3, a positive Hoffman sign in 2 of 3, tremor in 2 of 3, and absent gag reflex in 1 of 3. The cervical spine canal diameter in the three patients ranged from 6 to 8.5 mm. One had congenital cervical stenosis with superimposed spondylosis, and two had single- or two-level spondylosis. Anterior cervical disc replacement surgery in two patients and a hybrid anterior cervical disc fusion and disc replacement in the third was associated with a marked improvement in myelopathic symptoms, resolution of lightheadedness and hemodynamic dysfunction, improvement in activity levels, and improvement in global ME/CFS symptoms.
Conclusions: The prompt post-surgical restoration of more normal function suggests that cervical spine stenosis contributed to the pathogenesis of refractory ME/CFS and orthostatic symptoms. The improvements following surgery emphasize the importance of a careful search for myelopathic examination findings in those with ME/CFS, especially when individuals with severe impairment are not responding to treatment.
Keywords: Cervical myelopathy; Cervical stenosis; Chronic fatigue syndrome; Myalgic encephalomyelitis; Orthostatic intolerance; Postural tachycardia syndrome.