The epidemiology of chronic fatigue in San Francisco

Patricia Lea Steele, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a recently defined condition characterized by severe disabling fatigue that persists for a minimum of six months, and a host of somatic and neurocognitive symptoms. Although conditions similar to CFS have been described in the medical literature for over 100 years, little is known about the epidemiology of CFS or of chronic fatigue generally. The San Francisco Fatigue Study was undertaken to describe the prevalence and characteristics of self-reported chronic fatigue and associated conditions in a diverse urban community. The study utilized a cross-sectional telephone survey of a random sample of households in San Francisco, followed by case/control interviews of fatigued and nonfatigued subjects. Respondents were classified as chronically fatigued (CF) if they reported severe fatigue lasting six months or longer, then further classified as having CFS-like illness if, based on self-reported information, their condition appeared to meet CFS case definition criteria. Subjects who reported idiopathic chronic fatigue that did not meet CFS criteria were classified as having ICF-like illness. 8004 households were screened, yielding fatigue and demographic information on 16970 residents. CF was reported by 635 persons, 3.7% of the study population. CFS-like illness was identified in 34 subjects (0.2%), and ICF-like illness in 259 subjects (1.6%). Logistic regression analysis indicated that prevalence odds ratios for CFS-like illness were significantly elevated for females compared to males (OR = 2.9), and in Blacks (OR = 2.9) and Native Americans (OR = 13.2) relative to Whites, but significantly lower in Asians (OR = 0.12). Above-average household income was protective for all categories of CF. CFS-like subjects reported more symptoms and were more severely disabled than ICF-like subjects, but the pattern of symptoms experienced by both groups was similar. In conclusion, unexplained chronic fatigue, including CFS-like illness, occurs in all sociodemographic groups, but may be most prevalent among persons with lower incomes and in some racial minorities. Future studies that include clinical evaluation of incident cases of CFS and ICF are required to further clarify the epidemiology of unexplained chronic fatigue in the population.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

Steele, Patricia Lea, "The epidemiology of chronic fatigue in San Francisco" (1996). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9700053.