Introduction: Effort intolerance along with a prolonged recovery from exercise and post-exertional exacerbation of symptoms are characteristic features of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). The gold standard to measure the degree of physical activity intolerance is cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET). Multiple studies have shown that peak oxygen consumption is reduced in the majority of ME/CFS patients, and that a 2-day CPET protocol further discriminates between ME/CFS patients and sedentary controls. Limited information is present on ME/CFS patients with a severe form of the disease. Therefore, the aim of this study was to compare the effects of a 2-day CPET protocol in female ME/CFS patients with a severe grade of the disease to mildly and moderately affected ME/CFS patients. Methods and results: We studied 82 female patients who had undergone a 2-day CPET protocol. Measures of oxygen consumption (VO2
), heart rate (HR) and workload both at peak exercise and at the ventilatory threshold (VT) were collected. ME/CFS disease severity was graded according to the International Consensus Criteria. Thirty-one patients were clinically graded as having mild disease, 31 with moderate and 20 with severe disease. Baseline characteristics did not differ between the 3 groups. Within each severity group, all analyzed CPET parameters (peak VO2
at VT, peak workload and the workload at VT) decreased significantly from day-1 to day-2 (p
-Value between 0.003 and <0.0001). The magnitude of the change in CPET parameters from day-1 to day-2 was similar between mild, moderate, and severe groups, except for the difference in peak workload between mild and severe patients (p
= 0.019). The peak workload decreases from day-1 to day-2 was largest in the severe ME/CFS group (−19 (11) %). Conclusion: This relatively large 2-day CPET protocol study confirms previous findings of the reduction of various exercise variables in ME/CFS patients on day-2 testing. This is the first study to demonstrate that disease severity negatively influences exercise capacity in female ME/CFS patients. Finally, this study shows that the deterioration in peak workload from day-1 to day-2 is largest in the severe ME/CFS patient group.
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