OBJECTIVE: This study examined cognitive task performance and self-reported cognitive functioning in individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM) in a population-based sample and investigated the role of mood and anxiety disorders as well as severity of the physical symptoms.
METHODS: This study was performed in 79,966 participants (Mean age: 52.9, SD = ±12.6 years, 59.2% women) from the Lifelines general-population. Symptoms consistent with the diagnostic criteria for CFS and FM were assessed using questionnaires. Two comparison groups were used: participants with self-reported medical disorders with well-defined pathophysiology (i.e., multiple sclerosis and rheumatic arthritis) and controls without these diseases. Objective task-performance was based on the computerized CogState cognitive battery and subjective cognitive symptoms using the concentration subscale of the Checklist Individual Strength.
RESULTS: Cognitive task performance was poorer in individuals with CFS vs. controls without disease and controls with a medical disorder, although the severity of cognitive dysfunction was mild. Participants meeting criteria for CFS (n = 2,461) or FM (n = 4,295) reported more subjective cognitive symptoms compared to controls without a medical disorder (d = 1.53, 95%CI = 1.49-1.57 for CFS; d = 1.25, 95%CI = 1.22-1.29 for FM) and participants with a medical disease (d = 0.62, 95%CI = 0.46-0.79 for CFS; d = 0.75, 95%CI = 0.70-0.80 for FM). These differences remained essentially the same when excluding participants with comorbid mood or anxiety disorders or adjusting for physical symptom severity.
CONCLUSIONS: Subjective cognitive symptoms and to a lesser extent suboptimal cognitive task performance are more prevalent in individuals with CFS or FM compared to controls without these conditions.