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Age modification of the relationship between C-reactive protein and fatigue: findings from Understanding Society (UKHLS)

  • A. Hughes (a1) and M. Kumari (a1)
Abstract
Background

Systemic inflammation may play a role in the development of idiopathic fatigue, that is, fatigue not explained by infections or diagnosed chronic illness, but this relationship has never been investigated in community studies including the entire adult age span. We examine the association of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) and fatigue assessed annually in a 3-year outcome period for UK adults aged 16–98.

Methods

Multilevel models were used to track fatigue 7, 19, and 31 months after CRP measurement, in 10 606 UK individuals. Models accounted for baseline fatigue, demographics, health conditions diagnosed at baseline and during follow-up, adiposity, and psychological distress. Sensitivity analyses considered factors including smoking, sub-clinical disease (blood pressure, anaemia, glycated haemoglobin), medications, ethnicity, and alcohol consumption.

Results

Fatigue and CRP increased with age, and women had higher values than men. CRP was associated with future self-reported fatigue, but only for the oldest participants. Thus, in those aged 61–98 years, high CRP (>3 mg/L) independently predicted greater fatigue 7, 19, and 31 months after CRP measurement [odds ratio for new-onset fatigue after 7 months: 1.88, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.21–2.92; 19 months: 2.25, CI 1.46–3.49; 31 months: 1.65, CI 1.07–2.54]. No significant longitudinal associations were seen for younger participants.

Conclusions

Our findings support previously described CRP–fatigue associations in older individuals. However, there are clear age modifications in these associations, which may reflect a contribution of unmeasured sub-clinical disease of limited relevance to younger individuals. Further work is necessary to clarify intervening processes linking CRP and fatigue in older individuals.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Author for correspondence: A. Hughes, E-mail: a.hughes@essex.ac.uk
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