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Strength and physiological response to exercise in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome

Abstract

OBJECTIVE To measure strength, aerobic exercise capacity and efficiency, and functional incapacity in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) who do not have a current psychiatric disorder.

METHODS Sixty six patients with CFS without a current psychiatric disorder, 30 healthy but sedentary controls, and 15 patients with a current major depressive disorder were recruited into the study. Exercise capacity and efficiency were assessed by monitoring peak and submaximal oxygen uptake, heart rate, blood lactate, duration of exercise, and perceived exertion during a treadmill walking test. Strength was measured using twitch interpolated voluntary isometric quadriceps contractions. Symptomatic measures included physical and mental fatigue, mood, sleep, somatic amplification, and functional incapacity.

RESULTS Compared with sedentary controls, patients with CFS were physically weaker, had a significantly reduced exercise capacity, and perceived greater effort during exercise, but were equally unfit. Compared with depressed controls, patients with CFS had significantly higher submaximal oxygen uptakes during exercise, were weaker, and perceived greater physical fatigue and incapacity. Multiple regression models suggested that exercise incapacity in CFS was related to quadriceps muscle weakness, increased cardiovascular response to exercise, and body mass index. The best model of the increased exercise capacity found after graded exercise therapy consisted of a reduction in submaximal heart rate response to exercise.

CONCLUSIONS Patients with CFS were weaker than sedentary and depressed controls and as unfit as sedentary controls. Low exercise capacity in patients with CFS was related to quadriceps muscle weakness, low physical fitness, and a high body mass ratio. Improved physical fitness after treatment was associated with increased exercise capacity. These data imply that physical deconditioning helps to maintain physical disability in CFS and that a treatment designed to reverse deconditioning helps to improve physical function.

  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • exercise
  • incapacity
  • muscle strength
  • fitness

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