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.
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 sex.
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.
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.