Cognitive task performance and subjective cognitive symptoms in individuals with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia: A cross-sectional analysis of the Lifelines cohort study

September 5, 2022

Authors: Monica L Joustra, Catharina A Hartman, Stephan J L Bakker, Judith G M Rosmalen

Journal: Psychosomatic Medicine

DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000001117

Year Published: 2022


This study examined cognitive task performance and self-reported cognitive functioning in individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM) in a population-based sample and investigated the role of mood and anxiety disorders as well as severity of the physical symptoms.


This study was performed in 79,966 participants (Mean age: 52.9, SD = ±12.6 years, 59.2% women) from the Lifelines general-population. Symptoms consistent with the diagnostic criteria for CFS and FM were assessed using questionnaires. Two comparison groups were used: participants with self-reported medical disorders with well-defined pathophysiology (i.e., multiple sclerosis and rheumatic arthritis) and controls without these diseases. Objective task-performance was based on the computerized CogState cognitive battery and subjective cognitive symptoms using the concentration subscale of the Checklist Individual Strength.


Cognitive task performance was poorer in individuals with CFS vs. controls without disease and controls with a medical disorder, although the severity of cognitive dysfunction was mild. Participants meeting criteria for CFS (n = 2,461) or FM (n = 4,295) reported more subjective cognitive symptoms compared to controls without a medical disorder (d = 1.53, 95%CI = 1.49-1.57 for CFS; d = 1.25, 95%CI = 1.22-1.29 for FM) and participants with a medical disease (d = 0.62, 95%CI = 0.46-0.79 for CFS; d = 0.75, 95%CI = 0.70-0.80 for FM). These differences remained essentially the same when excluding participants with comorbid mood or anxiety disorders or adjusting for physical symptom severity.


Subjective cognitive symptoms and to a lesser extent suboptimal cognitive task performance are more prevalent in individuals with CFS or FM compared to controls without these conditions.

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