Orthostatic intolerance in chronic fatigue syndrome

J Transl Med. 2019 Jun 3;17(1):185. doi: 10.1186/s12967-019-1935-y.


Background: Orthostatic intolerance (OI) is a significant problem for those with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). We aimed to characterize orthostatic intolerance in CFS and to study the effects of exercise on OI.

Methods: CFS (n = 39) and control (n = 25) subjects had recumbent and standing symptoms assessed using the 20-point, anchored, ordinal Gracely Box Scale before and after submaximal exercise. The change in heart rate (ΔHR ≥ 30 bpm) identified Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) before and after exercise, and the transient, exercise-induced postural tachycardia Stress Test Activated Reversible Tachycardia (START) phenotype only after exercise.

Results: Dizziness and lightheadedness were found in 41% of recumbent CFS subjects and in 72% of standing CFS subjects. Orthostatic tachycardia did not account for OI symptoms in CFS. ROC analysis with a threshold ≥ 2/20 on the Gracely Box Scale stratified CFS subjects into three groups: No OI (symptoms < 2), Postural OI (only standing symptoms ≥ 2), and Persistent OI (recumbent and standing symptoms ≥ 2).

Conclusions: Dizziness and Lightheadedness symptoms while recumbent are an underreported finding in CFS and should be measured when doing a clinical evaluation to diagnose orthostatic intolerance. POTS was found in 6 and START was found in 10 CFS subjects. Persistent OI had symptoms while recumbent and standing, highest symptom severity, and lability in symptoms after exercise. Trial registration The trial was registered at the following: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03567811.

Keywords: Chronic fatigue syndrome; Orthostatic intolerance; POTS; Tachycardia.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Dizziness / complications
  • Dizziness / diagnosis
  • Dizziness / physiopathology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Test
  • Exercise Tolerance / physiology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / complications*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orthostatic Intolerance / complications*
  • Orthostatic Intolerance / diagnosis
  • Orthostatic Intolerance / physiopathology
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Sedentary Behavior

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03567811