Objectives: To determine the prevalence of fatigue in the general population and the factors associated with fatigue.
Design: Postal survey.
Setting: Six general practices in southern England.
Subjects: 31,651 men and women aged 18-45 years registered with the practices.
Main outcome measures: Responses to the 12 item general health questionnaire and a fatigue questionnaire which included self reported measures of duration, severity, and causes of fatigue.
Results: 15,283 valid questionnaires were returned, giving a response rate of 48.3%, (64% after adjustment for inaccuracies in the practice registers). 2798 (18.3%) of respondents reported substantial fatigue lasting six months or longer. Fatigue and psychological morbidity were moderately correlated (r = 0.62). Women were more likely to complain of fatigue than men, even after adjustment for psychological distress. The commonest cited reasons for fatigue were psychosocial (40% of patients). Of 2798 patients with excessive tiredness, only 38 (1.4%) attributed this to the chronic fatigue syndrome.
Conclusion: Fatigue is distributed as a continuous variable in the community and is closely associated with psychological morbidity.