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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Health Center

Researchers Pinpoint Chronic Fatigue Sufferers Who Are More Likely to Recover

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Dec. 14, 1999 (Cleveland) -- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is more likely to improve in patients who have less unclear thinking and fewer symptoms that seem to be unrelated to CFS. Those who improved were also more likely to have infrequent awakening, to sleep fewer hours, and to be married. That's according to a prospective study that appears in the November/December issue of the journal Archives of Family Medicine. Individuals who had more than two symptoms not usually used to define CFS and who never thought clearly were the least likely to experience improvement in their fatigue.

Lead author Arthur J. Hartz, MD, PhD, and colleagues analyzed questionnaires completed by 199 subjects aged 18 years or older who had unexplained, or idiopathic, fatigue for at least 6 months. Most patients were women, were aged 30-55, and were college graduates. At one time, more than 90% of these subjects had received some treatment by a physician for their fatigue, but at the time of follow-up, only 52% were still receiving treatment.

Symptoms were identified and broken down into two groups. The first scale consisted of symptoms that were also used to define CFS. They included sore throat, tender neck or underarm lymph nodes, muscle aches, joint pain, and headaches. The second scale consisted of symptoms not included in the current definition of CFS, including backache, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, other stomach or intestinal discomfort, mild fever or chills, unexplained muscle weakness, and dizziness.

Surprisingly, the more tired subjects were at the start of the study, the greater the improvement in their fatigue after two years. Also associated with greater improvements in fatigue were more frequent clarity of thought, fewer second-scale symptoms, less frequent nighttime awakenings, current married status, and fewer hours slept. Less improvement in fatigue symptoms was associated with unemployment, more second-scale symptoms, frequent nighttime awakening, and relation to someone with a psychological problem.

"It is likely that for some patients the fatigue is intrinsically linked to clear thinking, depression, muscle aches, and joint pain. The severity of each of these symptoms varies with the severity of the fatigue," concludes Hartz, who is with the department of family medicine at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Vital Information:

  • Patients are most likely to improve if they have no symptoms that are not usually associated with chronic fatigue syndrome and think clearly more often, according to a study.
  • Those symptoms not used to define chronic fatigue syndrome include backache, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, other stomach or intestinal discomfort, mild fever or chills, unexplained muscle weakness, and dizziness.
  • Surprisingly, the more tired patients were at the beginning of the experiment, the greater improvement they experienced after two years.

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