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Cognitive slowing & working memory difficulties in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

  [ 41 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Marshall PS, Forstot M, Callies A, Peterson PK, Schenck CH • • January 14, 1997

OBJECTIVE: Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
commonly report problems with attention, memory, learning, and
speed of cognitive processing. This study attempted to
evaluate these complaints using objective test criteria.

METHOD: A test battery composed of six tests assessing these
cognitive functions was given on two consecutive days. Twenty
CFS patients were compared with 20 healthy control subjects
and 14 patients with a history of major depression or
dysthymia matched by age, intelligence, education level, and

RESULTS: Compared with control subjects, CFS patients
consistently scored lower on tests in which motor and
cognitive processing speeds were a critical factor, eg,
reaction-time tasks. They also had more difficulty on
working-memory tests in which rapid cognitive processing
speed is also an important factor. The effort made on the
first day of testing did not result in a decline in cognitive
function on the following day. CFS patients did not qualify as
having affective disorder by several different diagnostic
criteria. Nonetheless, CFS patients' test performances did
not differ from patients with a history of major depression
or dysthymia.

CONCLUSIONS: It is concluded that, although CFS
and major depression and dysthymia have distinct clinical
features, these disorders have slowed motor and cognitive
processing speed in common.

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