The prognosis of different fatigue diagnostic labels: a longitudinal survey
- William T Hamiltona,
- Arlene M Gallagherb,
- Janice M Thomasc and
- Peter D Whiteb
Several different diagnostic labels exist for the fatigue syndromes, including chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and postviral fatigue syndrome (PVFS). An allied condition is fibromyalgia. No study has examined prognostic differences across these different labels.
To compare the prognoses of patients labelled with different fatigue syndromes in primary care.
We performed a longitudinal survey, using electronic records from the General Practice Research Database. All 18 122 patients diagnosed by their GP with a fatigue syndrome from 1988–2001 with a minimum of one year of records after diagnosis were collated into four groups: CFS, ME, PVFS and fibromyalgia. CFS and ME were combined for the main analysis as no code for CFS was available until 1995. The length of illness was calculated as the interval between the diagnosis and the last recorded fatigue symptom, expressed as days per year, to account for differing lengths of record after diagnosis.
Patients with CFS/ME combined had a worse prognosis (median length of illness 80 days per year; interquartile range 0–242) than fibromyalgia (51; 0–244) or PVFS 0 (0–108), a significant difference, P
< 0.001. In a subgroup analysis, ME had a worse prognosis (median length of illness in days per year 106; interquartile range 0–259) than CFS (33; 0–170), P
< 0.001, in spite of a better course before diagnosis. Secondary outcome measures were consistent with these results.
There were important differences in outcome between the various fatigue labels, with ME having the worst prognosis and PVFS the best. This could be an adverse effect of the label ME itself. Alternatively, patients who are destined to have a worse prognosis may preferentially attract the ME label. Our data support the first interpretation.