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J Clin Psychiatry. 1991 Oct;52(10):403-10.

An overview of chronic fatigue syndrome.

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Department of Neurology, State University of New York, Stony Brook 11794.



Psychological and immunologic factors both appear to contribute to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). By comparing CFS with other disorders in which fatigue is a prominent symptom, the association between fatigue, psychological vulnerability, depression, and immune function may be further defined. Recent data from psychological, neurologic, and immunologic studies that address these issues are reviewed.


Articles and abstracts covering CFS and related topics of fatigue, depression, and postinfectious syndromes were identified through MEDLINE and Index Medicus (1980-1990) and by bibliographic review of pertinent review articles.


The 1988 definition of CFS by the Centers for Disease Control encompasses several conditions in which the major characteristic is severe fatigue associated with constitutional symptoms. Several studies have identified immune dysfunction in CFS patients, but the specificity of these findings remains unclear. Most studies have shown that CFS patients, compared with other patients with chronic medical illness, experience more disabling fatigue. Some investigators have found a higher incidence of concurrent and past psychiatric illness in CFS patients compared with other medical patients, thereby suggesting an underlying psychopathology in CFS. However, other studies have not found a higher than expected incidence of past depression in CFS patients and have further shown that many CFS patients have no identifiable psychopathology.


CFS appears to be a heterogenous entity. Although there may be a high coincidence of major depression in CFS, a substantial proportion of patients lack any identifiable DSM-III-R psychiatric disorder yet still manifest the syndrome, thereby suggesting it has an autonomous entity. Despite the evolving nature of our current understanding of CFS, a rational diagnostic and therapeutic approach to CFS is possible.

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