Deconditioning does not explain orthostatic intolerance in ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome), by C (Linda) MC van Campen, Peter C Rowe & Frans C Visser in Journal of Translational Medicine vol 19, no. 193 (2021) [doi.org/10.1186/s12967-021-02819-0]
Orthostatic intolerance (OI) is a frequent finding in individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis /chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Published studies have proposed that deconditioning is an important pathophysiological mechanism in various forms of OI, including postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), however conflicting opinions exist. Deconditioning can be classified objectively using the predicted peak oxygen consumption (VO2) values from cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET). Therefore, if deconditioning is an important contributor to OI symptomatology, one would expect a relation between the degree of reduction in peak VO2 during CPET and the degree of reduction in CBF during head-up tilt testing (HUT).
Methods and results:
In 22 healthy controls and 199 ME/CFS patients were included. Deconditioning was classified by the CPET response as follows: %peak VO2 ≥ 85% = no deconditioning, %peak VO2 65–85% = mild deconditioning, and %peak VO2 < 65% = severe deconditioning. HC had higher oxygen consumption at the ventilatory threshold and at peak exercise as compared to ME/CFS patients (p ranging between 0.001 and < 0.0001).
Although ME/CFS patients had significantly greater CBF reduction than HC (p < 0.0001), there were no differences in CBF reduction among ME/CFS patients with no, mild, or severe deconditioning. We classified the hemodynamic response to HUT into three categories: those with a normal heart rate and blood pressure response, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or orthostatic hypotension. No difference in the degree of CBF reduction was shown in those three groups.
This study shows that in ME/CFS patients orthostatic intolerance is not caused by deconditioning as defined on cardiopulmonary exercise testing. An abnormal high decline in cerebral blood flow during orthostatic stress was present in all ME/CFS patients regardless of their %peak VO2 results on cardiopulmonary exercise testing.