Female patients with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Idiopathic Chronic Fatigue: comparison of responses to a Two-Day Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing protocol, by C Linda M C van Campen, Frans C Visser in Healthcare (Basel) 2021 Jun 5;9(6):682 [doi: 10.3390/healthcare9060682] This article belongs to the Special Issue Sport and Exercise Medicine


Research abstract


Multiple studies have shown that peak oxygen consumption is reduced in the majority of ME/CFS patients, using the golden standard for measuring exercise intolerance: cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET). A 2-day CPET protocol has shown different results on day 2 in ME/CFS patients compared to sedentary controls. No comparison is known between ME/CFS and idiopathic chronic fatigue (ICF) for 2-day CPET protocols. We compared ME/CFS patients with patients with chronic fatigue who did not fulfil the ME/CFS criteria in a female population and hypothesized a different pattern of response would be present during the 2nd day CPET.


Fifty-one female patients with ICF completed a 2-day CPET protocol and were compared to an age/sex-matched group of 50 female ME/CFS patients. Measures of oxygen consumption (VO2), heart rate (HR), systolic and diastolic blood pressure, workload (Work), and respiratory exchange ratio (RER) were collected at maximal (peak) and ventilatory threshold (VT) intensities.


Baseline characteristics for both groups were similar for age, BMI, BSA, and disease duration. A significance difference was present in the number of patients with fibromyalgia (seven ME/CFS patients vs zero ICF patients). Heart rate at rest and the RER did not differ significantly between CPET 1 and CPET 2. All other CPET parameters at the ventilatory threshold and maximum exercise differed significantly (p-value between 0.002 and <0.0001). ME/CFS patients showed a deterioration of performance on CPET2 as reflected by VO2 and workload at peak exercise and ventilatory threshold, whereas ICF patients showed improved performance on CPET2 with no significant change in peak workload.

Conclusion: This study confirms that female ME/CFS patients have a reduction in exercise capacity in response to a second day CPET. These results are similar to published results in female ME/CFS populations.

Patients diagnosed with ICF show a different response on day 2, more similar to sedentary and healthy controls, [suggesting that despite fatigue complaints of similar severity, a different disease is present and ICF might be trainable, whereas ME/CFS is not. – comment from full paper]

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