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Psychiatric morbidity & illness experience of primary care patients with chronic fatigue in Hong Kong

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OBJECTIVE: The authors’ goal was to examine the prevalence and experience of psychiatric morbidity among primary care patients with chronic fatigue in Hong Kong.

METHOD: One hundred adult patients with medically unexplained fatigue for 6 or more months were assessed with the Explanatory Model Interview Catalogue, psychopathological rating scales, and an enhanced version of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R.

RESULTS: The lifetime prevalence of DSM-III-R depressive and anxiety disorders was 54%. Current depressive and anxiety disorders were identified in 28 patients, who exhibited more psychopathology and functional impairment than other patients. Thirty-three patients had somatoform pain disorder, and 30 had undifferentiated somatoform disorder, but most of them could also be diagnosed as having shenjing shuairuo (weakness of nerves) and, to a lesser extent, ICD-10 neurasthenia. Chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosed according to the 1988 Centers for Disease Control criteria was rare (3%) and atypical. Generally, patients mentioned fatigue if asked, but pains (36%), insomnia (20%), and worries (13%) were the most troublesome symptoms. Most patients attributed illness onset to psychosocial sources.

CONCLUSIONS: Psychiatric morbidity was common among primary care patients with chronic fatigue. Subthreshold psychiatric morbidity was very common and was more validly represented by the disease construct of shenjing shuairuo or neurasthenia than somatoform disorder.

Lee S, Yu H, Wing Y, Chan C, Lee AM, Lee DT, Chen C, Lin K, Weiss MG

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