Chronic fatigue complaints in primary care: incidence and diagnostic patterns.


The complaint of chronic fatigue is ubiquitous in the primary care setting. Because of the nonspecific nature of chronic fatigue, practitioners do not focus on this complaint. Furthermore, most physicians use a problem-based approach. Such a prematurely narrowed focus could overlook the chronic fatigue complaint. Omissions in the data collection process would prove this oversight. Therefore, we postulated that a retrospective review of evaluations for chronic fatigue would demonstrate significant categorical deficiencies. These deficiencies would indicate a problem focus different than the chronic fatigue complaint itself. The authors reviewed the current literature to establish historical, physical, and laboratory findings pertinent to the evaluation of chronic fatigue. Six major categories and the associated data elements were identified for use in analyzing patient records. The patient records from the preceding 6 months were reviewed to find those containing a complaint of chronic fatigue. These records were analyzed to determine if a complete data set had been sought and if an associated diagnosis was made. A total of 425 consecutive charts from an academic family practice clinic were retrospectively reviewed; 9.9% (42) mentioned chronic fatigue. Physicians were lax in performing the mental status and physical examinations; taking the patient's psychiatric and sleep history, as well as the history of chief complaint; and ordering laboratory evaluations. The physician diagnoses included: depression (40.4%), nonspecific fatigue (35.7%), general medical disorders (16.6%), chronic fatigue syndrome (2.4%), fibromyalgia (2.4%), and sleep apnea (2.4%). From these data, the investigators conclude that the workup for chronic fatigue is often incomplete or lacks documentation. This oversight is likely due to a problem focus not directed at the chronic fatigue complaints. Also complicating the evaluation process are the multiple associated disorders, the prevalence of the complaint, and cost/benefit issues facing the primary care physician.

Cite this paper

@article{Ward1996ChronicFC, title={Chronic fatigue complaints in primary care: incidence and diagnostic patterns.}, author={Mary H. Ward and H{\'e}l{\`e}ne F. Delisle and Jay H. Shores and Philip C Slocum and Brian H. Foresman}, journal={The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association}, year={1996}, volume={96 1}, pages={34-46, 41} }