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Popul Health Metr. 2009 Oct 5;7:17. doi: 10.1186/1478-7954-7-17.

Replication of an empirical approach to delineate the heterogeneity of chronic unexplained fatigue.

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1
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. wcr1@cdc.gov.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is defined by self-reported symptoms. There are no diagnostic signs or laboratory markers, and the pathophysiology remains inchoate. In part, difficulties identifying and replicating biomarkers and elucidating the pathophysiology reflect the heterogeneous nature of the syndromic illness CFS. We conducted this analysis of people from defined metropolitan, urban, and rural populations to replicate our earlier empirical delineation of medically unexplained chronic fatigue and CFS into discrete endophenotypes. Both the earlier and current analyses utilized quantitative measures of functional impairment and symptoms as well as laboratory data. This study and the earlier one enrolled participants from defined populations and measured the internal milieu, which differentiates them from studies of clinic referrals that examine only clinical phenotypes.

METHODS:

This analysis evaluated 386 women identified in a population-based survey of chronic fatigue and unwellness in metropolitan, urban, and rural populations of the state of Georgia, USA. We used variables previously demonstrated to effectively delineate endophenotypes in an attempt to replicate identification of these endophenotypes. Latent class analyses were used to derive the classes, and these were compared and contrasted to those described in the previous study based in Wichita, Kansas.

RESULTS:

We identified five classes in the best fit analysis. Participants in Class 1 (25%) were polysymptomatic, with sleep problems and depressed mood. Class 2 (24%) was also polysymptomatic, with insomnia and depression, but participants were also obese with associated metabolic strain. Class 3 (20%) had more selective symptoms but was equally obese with metabolic strain. Class 4 (20%) and Class 5 (11%) consisted of nonfatigued, less symptomatic individuals, Class 4 being older and Class 5 younger. The classes were generally validated by independent variables. People with CFS fell equally into Classes 1 and 2. Similarities to the Wichita findings included the same four main defining variables of obesity, sleep problems, depression, and the multiplicity of symptoms. Four out of five classes were similar across both studies.

CONCLUSION:

These data support the hypothesis that chronic medically unexplained fatigue is heterogeneous and can be delineated into discrete endophenotypes that can be replicated. The data do not support the current perception that CFS represents a unique homogeneous disease and suggests broader criteria may be more explanatory. This replication suggests that delineation of endophenotypes of CFS and associated ill health may be necessary in order to better understand etiology and provide more patient-focused treatments.

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