Patients with ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and chronic pain report similar level of sickness behavior as individuals injected with bacterial endotoxin at peak inflammation, by Martin A Jonsjö, Jenny Åström, Michael P Jones, Bianka Karshikoff, KarinLodin, Linda Holmström, Lars Agréus, Rikard K Wicksell, John Axelsson, Mats Lekander, Gunnar L Olsson, Mike Kemani, Anna Andreasson in Brain, Behavior, & Immunity – Health 17 December 2019 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbih.2019.100028]
- Investigation of the level of subjective sickness behavior, assessed with a validated questionnaire, in patients with ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and in patients with chronic pain compared to clinical, non-clinical and experimental groups.
- The level of sickness behavior is similarly high in ME/CFS and chronic pain, and equal to the level in experimentally induced inflammation via injection of bacterial endotoxin.
- Higher levels of sickness behavior showed significant associations with lower levels of self-rated health and functioning.
Chronic sickness behavior is implicated in ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and chronic pain but the level of subjective sickness behavior in these conditions has not been investigated or compared to other clinical and non-clinical samples, or to the level in experimental inflammation. Furthermore, the relationship between sickness behavior and self-rated health and functioning is not known in patients with ME/CFS and chronic pain.
The aim of the present study was to investigate how sickness behavior in patients with chronic conditions differs from that in individuals with experimental acute sickness, primary care patients, the general population and healthy subjects. In addition, we wanted to explore how sickness behavior is related to self-rated health and health-related functioning.
Sickness behavior was quantified using the sickness questionnaire (SicknessQ). Self-ratings were collected at one time-point in 6 different samples. Levels of sickness behavior in patients with ME/CFS (n = 38) and patients with chronic pain (n = 190) were compared to healthy subjects with lipopolysaccharide(LPS)-induced inflammation (n = 29), primary care patients (n = 163), individuals from the general population (n = 155) and healthy subjects (n = 48), using linear regression. Correlations and moderated regression analyses were used to investigate associations between sickness behavior and self-rated health and health-related functioning in ME/CFS, chronic pain and the general population.
LPS-injected individuals (M = 16.3), patients with ME/CFS (M = 16.1), chronic pain (M = 16.1) and primary care patients (M = 10.7) reported significantly higher SicknessQ scores than individuals from the general population (M = 5.4) and healthy subjects (M = 3.6) all p’s < 0.001). In turn, LPS-injected individuals, patients with ME/CFS and chronic pain reported significantly higher SicknessQ scores than primary care patients (p’s < 0.01). Higher levels of sickness behavior were associated with poorer self-rated health and health-related functioning (p’s < 0.01), but less so in patients with ME/CFS and chronic pain than in individuals from the general population.
Patients with ME/CFS and chronic pain report similar high levels of sickness behavior; higher than primary care patients, and comparable to levels in experimental inflammation. Further study of sickness behavior in ME/CFS and chronic pain populations is warranted as immune-to-brain interactions and sickness behavior may be of importance for functioning as well as in core pathophysiological processes in subsets of patients.