Authors

Ickmans K, Meeus M, De Kooning M, Lambrecht L, Pattyn N, Nijs J

Institution

Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Faculty of Physical Education & Physiotherapy, Brussels, Belgium

Published abstract

Background

In addition to the frequently reported pain complaints, performance-based cognitive capabilities in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) with and without comorbid fibromyalgia (FM) are significantly worse than those of healthy controls. In various chronic pain populations, cognitive impairments are known to be related to pain severity. However, to the best of our knowledge, the association between cognitive performance and experimental pain measurements has never been examined in CFS patients.

Objectives

This study aimed to examine the association between cognitive performance and self-reported as well as experimental pain measurements in CFS patients with and without FM.

Study design

Observational study.

Setting

The present study took place at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the University of Antwerp.

Methods

Forty-eight (18 CFS-only and 30 CFS+FM) patients and 30 healthy controls were studied. Participants first completed 3 performance-based cognitive tests designed to assess selective and sustained attention, cognitive inhibition, and working memory capacity. Seven days later, experimental pain measurements (pressure pain thresholds [PPT], temporal summation [TS], and conditioned pain modulation [CPM]) took place and participants were asked to fill out 3 questionnaires to assess self-reported pain, fatigue, and depressive symptoms.

Results

In the CFS+FM group, the capacity of pain inhibition was significantly associated with cognitive inhibition. Self-reported pain was significantly associated with simple reaction time in CFS-only patients. The CFS+FM but not the CFS-only group showed a significantly lower PPT and enhanced TS compared with controls.

Limitations

The cross-sectional nature of this study does not allow for inferences of causation.

Conclusions

The results underline disease heterogeneity in CFS by indicating that a measure of endogenous pain inhibition might be a significant predictor of cognitive functioning in CFS patients with FM, while self-reported pain appears more appropriate to predict cognitive functioning in CFS patients without FM.

Publication

Ickmans et al, Pain Physician, 2015 Sep–Oct; 18(5):E841–52

Funding

The study was funded by ME Research UK.