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Abstract

Subjective feelings of fatigue were assessed before operation and 10, 20 and 30 days after uncomplicated elective abdominal surgery in 16 otherwise healthy patients, using a constructed fatigue scale model. In addition, all patients had an orthostatic stress test performed at the same times. Six of the patients also underwent a bicycle ergometer test measuring heart rate and oxygen consumption. Subjective feelings of fatigue were increased (P<0.01) at all three postoperative observations, and only 5 of 16 patients returned to their preoperative level. The increased subjective feeling of fatigue correlated positively (Rs = 0.53, P<0.001) with the increased pulse rate seen during orthostatic stress after operation. Heart rate was about 5 per cent higher (n.s.) after operation when bicycling at the same work loads, while oxygen consumption decreased by about 2 per cent (P<0.01) at all three postoperative bicycle tests. It is concluded that even elective uncomplicated abdominal surgery is followed by a pronounced feeling of fatigue, which may persist 1 month after surgery in about one-third of patients. The fatigue scale model seems applicable for future studies on the pathogenesis and treatment of the postoperative fatigue syndrome.