Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 January 2010
To examine the role of psychological distress, negative life events, social support and lack of fitness (using breathlessness on exertion as a proxy) in the development of new onset fatigue in a primary care population.
Adults between the ages of 18 and 45 years who were registered with five general practices in South East England were asked to complete a fatigue questionnaire and the 12-item General Health Questionnaire. Between 1 and 12 months later, subjects who visited the general practitioner (GP) with a suspected viral infection were recruited to the study and asked to complete measures of fatigue, psychological distress, life events, social support and allergies (stage 2). The next person to present to the GP with a complaint other than a viral illness was recruited as a control. Factors assessed at stage 2 that were associated with the development of fatigue were examined with stepwise logistic regression.
Acute fatigue was not associated with a viral illness. Negative life events and breathlessness on exertion (interpreted as lack of fitness) were associated with incident cases of fatigue. However, when controlling for concurrent psychological distress, the independent association of negative life events disappeared.
Psychological distress was strongly associated with new onset fatigue and hence emphasizes the significance of psychological distress as a concomitant complaint in fatigue. Further, the salient association between breathlessness and fatigue may indicate the need to recommend exercise as a therapeutic strategy to improve physical fitness in the primary care setting.
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