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A Systematic Review of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Don't Assume It's Depression

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2008;10:120-128
10.4088/PCC.v10n0206

Objective: Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is characterized by profound, debilitating fatigue and a combination of several other symptoms resulting in substantial reduction in occupational, personal, social, and educational status. CFS is often misdiagnosed as depression. The objective of this study was to evaluate and discuss different etiologies, approaches, and management strategies of CFS and to present ways to differentiate it from the fatigue symptom of depression.

Data Sources: A MEDLINE search was conducted to identify existing information about CFS and depression using the headings chronic fatigue syndrome AND depression. The alternative terms major depressive disorder and mood disorder were also searched in conjunction with the term chronic fatigue syndrome. Additionally, MEDLINE was searched using the term chronic fatigue. All searches were limited to articles published within the last 10 years, in English. A total of 302 articles were identified by these searches. Also, the term chronic fatigue syndrome was searched by itself. This search was limited to articles published within the last 5 years, in English, and resulted in an additional 460 articles. Additional publications were identified by manually searching the reference lists of the articles from both searches.

Study Selection and Data Extraction: CFS definitions, etiologies, differential diagnoses (especially depression) and management strategies were extracted, reviewed, and summarized to meet the objectives of this article.

Data Synthesis: CFS is underdiagnosed in more than 80% of the people who have it; at the same time, it is often misdiagnosed as depression. Genetic, immunologic, infectious, metabolic, and neurologic etiologies were suggested to explain CFS. A biopsychosocial model was suggested for evaluating, managing, and differentiating CFS from depression.

Conclusions: Evaluating and managing chronic fatigue is a challenging situation for physicians, as it is a challenging and difficult condition for patients. A biopsychosocial approach in the evaluation and management is recommended. More studies about CFS manifestations, evaluation, and management are needed.