Cognitive deficits in patients suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), acute infective illness or depression

BACKGROUND: Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

report neuro-psychological symptoms as a characteristic

feature. We sought to assess cognitive performance in patients

with CFS, and compare cognitive performance and subjective

workload experience of these patients with that of two disease

comparison groups (non-melancholic depression and acute

infection) and healthy controls.

METHOD: A computerized

performance battery employed to assess cognitive functioning

included tests of continuous attention, response speed,

performance accuracy and memory. Severity of mood disturbance

and subjective fatigue were assessed by questionnaire.

RESULTS: All patient groups demonstrated increased errors and

slower reaction times, and gave higher workload ratings than

healthy controls. Patients with CFS and non-melancholic

depression had more severe deficits than patients with acute

infection. All patient groups reported more severe mood

disturbance and fatigue than healthy controls, but patients

with CFS and those with acute infection reported less severe

mood disturbance than patients with depression.


As all patients demonstrated similar deficits in attention and

response speed, it is possible that common pathophysiological

processes are involved. The differences in severity of mood

disturbance, however, suggest that the pathophysiological

processes in patients with CFS and acute infection are not

simply secondary to depressed mood.

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