Introduction: In a large study with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) patients, we showed that 86% had symptoms of orthostatic intolerance in daily life and that 90% had an abnormal reduction in cerebral blood flow (CBF) during a standard tilt test. A standard head-up tilt test might not be tolerated by the most severely affected bed-ridden ME/CFS patients. Sitting upright is a milder orthostatic stress. The present study examined whether a sitting test, measuring cerebral blood flow by extracranial Doppler, would be sufficient to provoke abnormal reductions in cerebral blood flow in severe ME/CFS patients. Methods and results: 100 severe ME/CFS patients were studied, (88 females) and were compared with 15 healthy controls (HC) (13 females). CBF was measured first while seated for at least one hour, followed by a CBF measurement in the supine position. Fibromyalgia was present in 37 patients. Demographic data as well as supine heart rate and blood pressures were not different between ME/CFS patients and HC. Heart rate and blood pressure did not change significantly between supine and sitting both in patients and HC. Supine CBF was not different between patients and HC. In contrast, absolute CBF during sitting was lower in patients compared to HC: 474 (96) mL/min in patients and 627 (89) mL/min in HC; p
< 0.0001. As a result, percent CBF reduction while seated was −24.5 (9.4)% in severe ME/CFS patients and −0.4 (1.2)% in HC (p
< 0.0001). In the ten patients who had no orthostatic intolerance complaints in daily life, the CBF reduction was −2.7 (2.1)%, which was not significantly different from HC (p
= 0.58). The remaining 90 patients with orthostatic intolerance complaints had a −26.9 (6.2)% CBF reduction. No difference in CBF parameters was found in patients with and without fibromyalgia. Patients with a previous diagnosis of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) had a significantly larger CBF reduction compared with those without POTS: 28.8 (7.2)% vs. 22.3 (9.7)% (p
= 0.0008). Conclusions: A sitting test in severe ME/CFS patients was sufficient to provoke a clinically and statistically significant mean CBF decline of 24.5%. Patients with a previous diagnosis of POTS had a larger CBF reduction while seated, compared to patients without POTS. The magnitude of these CBF reductions is similar to the results in less severely affected ME/CFS patients during head-up tilt, suggesting that a sitting test is adequate for the diagnosis of orthostatic intolerance in severely affected patients.
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