BACKGROUND Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a poorly understood condition, apparently related to both psychiatric disturbance and infectious illness. Little progress has been made in identifying aetiology, owing to a lack of epidemiological studies using case-definition criteria.
METHOD A community postal survey of a random sample of over 1000 patients registered at a local health centre comprised a fatigue questionnaire and the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ).
RESULTS Total fatigue scores were modestly higher in women than men. Fatigue was most frequently attributed to psychosocial factors. Fatigue and GHQ scores were strongly correlated. Two men and two women satisfied British criteria for CFS, a prevalence of 0.56% (95% Cl 0.16-1.47%); three were probable psychiatric cases.
CONCLUSIONS Previously reported sociodemographic associations of CFS may reflect medical referral patterns. A strong association exists with psychological morbidity, but relabelling CFS as a psychiatric disorder is not justified.