Prolonged fatigue in adolescents has a major impact on social functioning and school attendance. In adults, prolonged fatigue substantially overlaps with mood and anxiety disorders. Extending the data to adolescents, the authors studied the prevalence and correlates of fatigue in a representative U.S. sample.
The participants were 10,123 adolescents ages 13–18 years from the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement. They were interviewed about prolonged fatigue, defined as extreme fatigue with at least one associated symptom (pains, dizziness, headache, sleep disturbance, inability to relax, irritability) that does not resolve by resting or relaxing and lasting at least 3 months.
The prevalence of prolonged fatigue was 3.0% (SE=0.3), with 1.4% (SE=0.2) for prolonged fatigue only and 1.6% (SE=0.2) for prolonged fatigue concomitant with a depressive or anxiety disorder. Nearly 60% of the adolescents with prolonged fatigue only had severe or very severe disability, and their rates of poor physical and mental health were comparable to those of adolescents with mood or anxiety disorders only. Adolescents with prolonged fatigue and comorbid mood or anxiety disorders had significantly greater disability, poorer mental health, and more health service use than those with either condition alone.
These findings suggest that prolonged fatigue is associated with disability and is an important clinical entity independent of mood and anxiety disorders in adolescents. Persistent fatigue with a comorbid mood or anxiety state is related to even more functional impairment, suggesting that prolonged fatigue may reflect greater severity of mood and anxiety disorders in adolescents.