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Physical Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Are Exacerbated By the Stress of Hurricane Andrew

Lutgendorf, Susan K. PhD; Antoni, Michael H. PhD; Ironson, Gail MD, PhD; Fletcher, Mary Ann PhD; Penedo, Frank BS; Baum, Andrew PhD; Schneiderman, Neil PhD; Klimas, Nancy MD

Original Article

This study examined the effects of Hurricane Andrew on physical symptoms and functional impairments in a sample of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients residing in South Florida.In the months after Hurricane Andrew (September 15-December 31, 1992), 49 CFS patients were assessed for phychosocial and physical functioning with questionnaires, interviews, and physical examinations. This sample was made up of 25 CFS patients living in Dade county, a high impact area, and 24 patients in Broward and Palm Beach counties, areas less affected by the hurricane. Based on our model for stress-related effects on CFS, we tested the hypothesis that the patients who had the greatest exposure to this natural disaster would show the greatest exacerbation in CFS symptoms and related impairments in activities of daily living (illness burden). In support of this hypothesis, we found that the Dade county patients showed significant increases in physician-rated clinical relapses and exacerbations in frequency of several categories of self-reported CFS physical symptoms as compared to the Broward/Palm Beach county patients. Illness burden, as measured on the Sickness Impact Profile, also showed a significant increase in the Dade county patients. Although extent of disruption due to the storm was a significant factor in predicting relapse, the patient's posthurricane distress response was the single strongest predictor of the likelihood and severity of relapse and functional impairment. Additionally, optimism and social support were significantly associated with lower illness burden after the hurricane, above and beyond storm-related disruption and distress responses. These findings provide information on the impact of environmental stressors and psychosocial factors in the exacerbation of CFS symptoms.

From the Department of Psychology (S.K.L., M.H.A., G.I., M.A.F., F.P., N.S., N.K.), Department of Psychiatry (M.H.A., G.I., N.S.), Department of Medicine (M.A.F., N.S., N.K.), University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL and Pittsburg Cancer Institute, University of Pittsburgh, PA.

Address reprint requests to: Michael H. Antoni, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, P.O. Box 248185, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124.

Received for publication August 13, 1993; revision received September 26, 1994.

Copyright © 1995 by American Psychosomatic Society
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