Many women with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) fear that pregnancy will worsen their condition, increase the risks of maternal complications of pregnancy, or threaten the health of their offspring. Little empirical evidence, however, has been published on this matter.
A detailed questionnaire was administered to 86 women regarding 252 pregnancies that occurred before or after the onset of CFS and the outcomes of these pregnancies were observed.
During pregnancy, there was no change in CFS symptoms in 29 (41%), an improvement of symptoms in 21 (30%), and a worsening of symptoms in 20 (29%) of 70 subjects. After pregnancy, there was no change in CFS symptoms in 21 (30%), an improvement of symptoms in 14 (20%), and a worsening of symptoms in 35 (20%) of the subjects. The rates of many complications were similar in pregnancies occurring before the onset and in those occurring after the onset of CFS. There was a higher frequency of spontaneous abortions in the pregnancies occurring after, vs before, the onset of CFS (22 [30%] of 73 pregnancies after vs 13 [8%] of 171 before; P<.001), but no differences in the rates of other complications. Developmental delays or learning disabilities were reported more often in the offspring of women who became pregnant after, vs before, the onset of CFS (9 [21%] of 43 children vs 11 [8%] of 139 children; P = .01).
Pregnancy did not consistently worsen the symptoms of CFS. Most maternal and infant outcomes were not systematically worse in pregnancies occurring after the onset of CFS. The higher rates of spontaneous abortions and of developmental delays in offspring that we observed could be explained by maternal age or parity differences, and should be investigated by larger, prospective studies with control populations.