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Cognitive Functioning and Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Chronic Fatigue

  • Helen Cope (a1), Amanda Pernet (a2), Brian Kendall (a3) and Anthony David (a4)

This study examines whether cognitive dysfunction in chronic fatigue may be accounted for by depression and anxiety or is due to brain pathology evident on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


Twenty-six subjects with chronic fatigue, with and without coexisting depression, and 18 age-matched normal controls were recruited from primary care following a presumed viral illness six months previously. Comparison was made with 13 psychiatric controls with depressive illness on standardised cognitive tests. MRI determined the presence of cerebral white-matter lesions.


No substantial differences in performance were shown between subjects with chronic fatigue, most of whom met the criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome, and controls. Subjective cognitive dysfunction increased with psychopathology. White-matter lesions were found in a minority from all groups. Improvement in fatigue and depression coincided with improved performance on cognitive measures.


Subjective complaints of cognitive impairment are a prominent feature of chronic fatigue, but objective cognitive and MRI abnormalities are not. Such complaints probably reflect psychopathology rather than a post-viral process.

Corresponding author
Dr Helen Cope, Section of Neuropsychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF
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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
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Cognitive Functioning and Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Chronic Fatigue

  • Helen Cope (a1), Amanda Pernet (a2), Brian Kendall (a3) and Anthony David (a4)
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