A review of the definitional criteria for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Yvonne Christley, Timothy Duffy, Colin Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The research community has for more than three decades tried to unravel the diagnostic mystery that is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This has resulted in considerable amounts of time and money being invested in attempts aimed at establishing the aetiology and pathogenesis of CFS. All of this investment has produced evidence of an interesting variety of endocrine, immune, infectious, muscular and neurological abnormalities in CFS; however, the cause remains elusive. The absence of a known causative agent or diagnostic test for CFS has resulted in the development of a number of CFS case definitions. As such, the main objectives of this paper are to provide a critical review of the similarities and differences between the varying approaches to CFS case definition. The conflicts and controversies that have emerged as a result of the differing definitional criterion for CFS are highlighted and the potential impact on future research is identified.

This paper presents a critical review of the most frequently used case definitions in CFS. There are currently five case definitions of CFS; however, the most prominent and widely used of these definitions is the 1994 Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Case Definitions. However, the pre-eminence of this definition over the others has never been substantiated and it has been widely criticized for its lack of specificity. Furthermore, none of the above case definitions have produced evidence to demonstrate their accuracy or precision at defining cases of CFS. A summary description of the symptom profile included in each of the case definitions is provided. The inconsistencies that have emerged in CFS research as a consequence of differing approaches to case definition are also highlighted and discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-31
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


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