Are chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia the same? Implications for the provision of appropriate mental health intervention

P. G. McKay, T. Duffy, C. R. Martin

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Accessible summary This paper views the historical perspectives of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) and fibromyalgia (FM) that gives an understanding of the background to these complex syndromes. The relationship between CFS/ME and FM are considered based on the evidence presented, which identifies that there is compelling evidence that these two syndromes may in fact be the same. This is interesting as current evidence suggests that these two syndromes are currently treated differently. The long-standing controversy surrounding the aetiology CFS/ME is discussed in relation to the issues of mental health, in particular anxiety and/or depression that has been associated with this condition. In contrast, FM is reviewed in relation to the associated symptomology of anxiety and/or depression. This review provides the reader with compelling evidence to suggest that the initial presenting symptoms of these two diseases may dictate differential diagnosis and the subsequent treatment they receive if any and, moreover, if indeed these syndromes are confused with that of a psychiatric disorder. This paper will give the reader time for thought over the issue that: just because there is at present no specific diagnostic test or treatment for this condition, why then is the conclusion reached that this must be a psychiatric condition. Abstract Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia represent distinct diagnostic entities within both the clinical and research literature. A common feature of both presentations is that they are often accompanied by a significant mental health burden. A further salient feature of both conditions is that there is no consistent consensus on aetiology. Evaluation of the features of each disorder seems to present a convincing case that both disorders may indeed have a common aetiology and further, the possibility exists that chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia represent the same underlying disorder. Paradoxically, given this possibility it is remarkable that both patient groups are treated clinically with considerably different approaches to care and management. Mental health practitioners will come into contact with both groups of patients when support for the psychological consequences of diagnosis are necessary; however, many practitioners will be unaware of the debate regarding the aetiological ambiguities surrounding these presentations. The purpose of this review is to highlight the above issues in order to both facilitate awareness of the current aetiological/diagnostic impasse and facilitate provision of optimum mental health support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)884-894
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2009


  • Aetiology
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Depression
  • Diagnosis
  • Fibromyalgia


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