The pathophysiology of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in adolescents is unknown, and the clinical course and prognosis is still questioned. Recent research indicates that abnormalities of autonomic cardiovascular control may play an important role. The aim of this research project was to perform a follow-up study of adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome, focusing on clinical symptoms and autonomic cardiovascular control.
47 adolescents (12-18 years old) with CFS were recruited from the outpatient clinic at the Department of Pediatrics, Oslo University Hospital. In a primary visit and a follow-up visit (3-17 months later), we evaluated: a) a wide range of complaints and symptoms and b) cardiovascular variables at baseline and during a 20° head-up tilt-test (HUT).
At the second visit, patients reported significant improvement regarding functional impairments, fatigue severity, muscular pain, concentration problems, post-exertional malaise and the problem of non-relieving rest. Also, at the second visit, baseline heart rate (HR), blood pressure, total peripheral resistance index (TPRI) and LF/HF (low-frequency:high-frequency heart rate variability ratio, an index of sinus node sympathovagal balance derived from spectral analyses of heart rate) were significant lower, and the increases in HR, mean blood pressure (MBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP) and TPRI during tilt were significantly less pronounced as compared to the first visit. There was a significant correlation between changes in autonomic symptom score, fatigue severity score and functional impairment score from the first to the second visit.
The majority of adolescents with CFS experienced an improvement over time in functional impairment, self-reported fatigue and additional symptoms, and a concurrent improvement of autonomic cardiovascular control. A possible connection between clinical symptoms and abnormal autonomic control in CFS might represent a focus for further research.