Background: Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia (FM), and multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) are conditions associated with fatigue and a variety of other symptoms that appear to share many clinical and demographic features. Our objectives were to describe the similarities and differences among patients with CFS, FM, and MCS. Additional objectives were to determine how frequently patients with MCS and FM met the criteria for CFS and if they differed in their health locus of control.
Methods: Demographic, clinical, and psychosocial measures were prospectively collected in 90 patients, 30 each with CFS, FM, and MCS. Patients were recruited from a university-based referral clinic devoted to the evaluation and treatment of chronic fatigue and three private practices. Variables included demographic features, symptoms characteristic of each condition, psychological complaints, a measure of health locus of control, and information on health care use.
Results: Overall, the three patient groups were remarkably similar in demographic characteristics and the presence of specific symptoms. Patients with CFS and FM frequently reported symptoms compatible with MCS. Likewise, 70% of patients with FM and 30% of those with MCS met the criteria for CFS. Health care use was substantial among patients with CFS, FM, and MCS, with an average of 22.1, 39.7, and 23.3 visits, respectively, to a medical provider during the prior year. Health locus of control did not differ among the three populations.
Conclusions: In general, demographic and clinical factors and health locus of control do not clearly distinguish patients with CFS, FM, and MCS. Symptoms typical of each disorder are prevalent in the other two conditions.