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Clinical Neurophysiology of Fatigue

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By MJ Zwarts, et al. • • December 28, 2007

Fatigue is a multidimensional concept covering both physiological and psychological aspects. Chronic fatigue is a typical symptom of diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease (PD) and cerebrovascular disorders but is also presented by people in whom no defined somatic disease has been established. If certain criteria are met, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can be diagnosed.

The 4-item Abbreviated Fatigue Questionnaire allows the extent of the experienced fatigue to be assessed with a high degree of reliability and validity. Physiological fatigue has been well defined and originates in both the peripheral and central nervous system. The condition can be assessed by combining force and surface-EMG measurements (including frequency analyses and muscle-fibre conduction estimations), twitch interpolation, magnetic stimulation of the motor cortex and analysis of changes in the readiness potential.

Fatigue is a well-known phenomenon in both central and peripheral neurological disorders. Examples of the former conditions are multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and stroke. Although it seems to be a universal symptom of many brain disorders, the unique characteristics of the concomitant fatigue also point to a specific relationship with several of these syndromes.

As regards neuromuscular disorders, fatigue has been reported in patients with post-polio syndrome, myasthenia gravis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, facioscapulohumeral dystrophy, myotonic dystrophy and hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy type-I. More than 60% of all neuromuscular patients suffer from severe fatigue, a prevalence resembling that of patients with MS.

Except for several rare myopathies with specific metabolic derangements leading to exercise-induced muscle fatigue, most studies have not identified a prominent peripheral cause for the fatigue in this population. In contrast, the central activation of the diseased neuromuscular system is generally found to be suboptimal. The reliability of the psychological and clinical neurophysiological assessment techniques available today allows a multidisciplinary approach to fatigue in neurological patients, which may contribute to the elucidation of the pathophysiological mechanisms of chronic fatigue, with the ultimate goal to develop tailored treatments for fatigue in neurological patients.

The present report discusses the different manifestations of fatigue and the available tools to assess peripheral and central fatigue.

Source: Clinical Neurophysiology. Nov 24 2007; [E-pub ahead of print] PMID: 18039594, by Zwarts MJ, Bleijenberg G, van Engelen BG. University Medical Centre Nijmegen, Institute of Neurology; Neuromuscular Centre Nijmegen, Department of Neurology, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

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