Research Article

Aerobic work capacity in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

BMJ 1990; 301 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.301.6758.953 (Published 27 October 1990) Cite this as: BMJ 1990;301:953
  1. M S Riley,
  2. C J O'Brien,
  3. D R McCluskey,
  4. N P Bell,
  5. D P Nicholls
  1. Department of Medicine, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.

    Abstract

    OBJECTIVE--To determine the aerobic work capacity of patients with the chronic fatigue syndrome and compare it with that of two control groups, and to assess the patients' perception of their level of activity before and during illness. DESIGN--A symptom limited exercise treadmill test with on line gas analysis and blood sampling was used. Subjects were assessed by one investigator, who was blind to the group which they were in. SETTING--Department of medicine, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. SUBJECTS--13 Patients (10 women, three men) who fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome. Two control groups of similar age, sex, and body weight: 13 normal subjects (10 women, three men) and seven patients (five women, two men) with the irritable bowel syndrome. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Aerobic work capacity as assessed by several variables such as length of time on treadmill, heart rate, and biochemical measurements; Borg score; and visual analogue scores of perceived level of physical activity. RESULTS--The patients with the chronic fatigue syndrome had a reduced exercise capacity compared with that of the other subjects, spending a significantly shorter time on the treadmill. They had a significantly higher heart rate at submaximal levels of exertion and at stage III exertion had significantly higher blood lactate concentrations. Using a Borg score, they showed a significantly altered perception of their degree of physical exertion with a mean score of 8.2 compared with 6.6 and 5.3 for the normal subjects and patients with the irritable bowel syndrome respectively. Using a visual analogue scale they indicated that they had a greater capacity for activity before illness than had the patients with the irritable bowel syndrome, but the scores were not significantly different between the two groups. Both groups of patients indicated reduced activity at the time of testing. Normal controls and patients with the irritable bowel syndrome aspired to a greater level of activity than their current level, but the patients with the chronic fatigue syndrome aspired to a level similar to that which they had had before their illness. CONCLUSIONS--Patients with the chronic fatigue syndrome have reduced aerobic work capacity compared with normal subjects and patients with the irritable bowel syndrome. They also have an altered perception of their degree of exertion and their premorbid level of physical activity.