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Trends in the incidence of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia in the UK, 2001-2013: a Clinical Practice Research Datalink study

By S. M. Collin et al.


Objective: Trends in recorded diagnoses of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS, also known as ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’ (ME)) and fibromyalgia (FM) in the UK were last reported more than ten years ago, for the period 1990-2001. Our aim was to analyse trends in incident diagnoses of CFS/ME and FM for the period 2001-2013, and to investigate whether incidence might vary by index of multiple deprivation (IMD) score.

Design: Electronic health records cohort study. Setting NHS primary care practices in the UK. 

Participants: Patients registered with general practices linked to the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) primary care database from January 2001 to December 2013. Main outcome measure Incidence of CFS/ME, FM, post-viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS), and asthenia/debility.

Results: The overall annual incidence of recorded cases of CFS/ME was 14.8 (95% CI 14.5, 15.1) per 100,000 people. Overall annual incidence per 100,000 people for FM was 33.3 (32.8-33.8), for PVFS 12.2 (11.9, 12.5), and for asthenia/debility 7.0 (6.8, 7.2). Annual incidence rates for CFS/ME diagnoses decreased from 17.5 (16.1, 18.9) in 2001 to 12.6 (11.5, 13.8) in 2013 (annual percent change -2.8% (-3.6%, -2.0%)). Annual incidence rates for FM diagnoses decreased from 32.3 (30.4, 34.3) to 27.1 (25.5, 28.6) in 2007, then increased to 38.2 (36.3, 40.1) per 100,000 people in 2013. Overall annual incidence of recorded fatigue symptoms was 2246 (2242, 2250) per 100,000 people. Compared with the least deprived IMD quintile, incidence of CFS/ME in the most deprived quintile was 39% lower (incidence rate ratio (IRR) 0.61 (0.50, 0.75)), whereas rates of FM were 40% higher (IRR 1.40 (0.95, 2.06)).

Conclusion: These analyses suggest a gradual decline in recorded diagnoses of CFS/ME since 2001, and an increase in diagnoses of fibromyalgia, with opposing socioeconomic patterns of lower rates of CFS/ME diagnoses in the poorest areas compared with higher rates of FM diagnoses.

Source: Collin SM, Bakken IJ, Nazareth I, Crawley E, White PD. Trends in the incidence of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia in the UK, 2001-2013: a Clinical Practice Research Datalink study.  J R Soc Med [1]. 2017 Jan 1:141076817702530. doi: 10.1177/0141076817702530. [Epub ahead of print]