How Clinicians Can Help Children with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

January 28th 2016
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor

Chronic fatigue syndrome may be far more prevalent among teenagers than previously thought.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) may be far more prevalent among teenagers than previously thought.

In a recent study, researchers from the University of Bristol examined CFS—also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)—in 5756 British teens.

Based on the results of a questionnaire given to the participants and their parents, the research team determined that nearly 3% of 16 year olds experienced CFS for at least 3 months, while for 2% of 16 year olds, the condition lasted for more than 6 months.

Teenage girls were found to be particularly prone to CFS, as they were almost twice as likely to have the condition as teenage boys. Teens from families experiencing greater adversity—the definition of which included financial hardships, poor housing, and insufficient support for parents—were also determined to be at greater risk of developing CFS.

“As pediatricians, we need to get better at identifying CFS/ME, particularly in those children from disadvantaged backgrounds who may be less able to access specialist care,” said senior study author Esther Crawley, MD, in a press release.

CFS was found to have a considerable effect on teens’ education, as those with the condition were absent from school an average of half a day each week.

“CFS is a very debilitating illness which has a huge impact on the lives of children and their families,” stated lead study author Simon Collin, MD. “The results of our study underscore the need for further research into the causes of, and improved treatments for, pediatric CFS.”

However, many teens find it difficult to be properly treated for CFS, as many health care providers either misdiagnose them or dismiss their symptoms as psychosomatic. Alarmingly, up to 94% of children with CFS reported that they were not believed when they sought care for their condition, according to previous research conducted by the Association of Young People with ME.

Fortunately, this is an area in which retail clinicians can make an important impact, as many teens with CFS and their parents will often turn to local clinics for help.

Guido R. Zanni, PhD,previously explainedthat many patients with CFS encounter a lack of empathy from providers when seeking treatment. Because of this, it is essential for clinicians to be supportive and sympathetic when treating teens with CFS-like symptoms, and to take their concerns seriously.

“Patients with CFS express 2 important needs: making sense of their illness, and managing and developing strategies for symptom relief,” he wrote. “Many patients live with frustration, depression, and stress because friends and relatives summarily dismiss their symptoms. Many are relieved when they are diagnosed with CFS; it validates the legitimacy of their symptoms.”

Dr. Zanni suggested that clinicians can encourage patients with CFS to make lifestyle changes that could improve their condition, including:

  • Adopt a healthy diet that is high in fiber and low in animal fat and sugar.
  • Eliminate alcohol and tobacco use.
  • Adhere to a consistent exercise program without pushing too hard.
  • Partaking in social activities and turning to social support systems.

The study, which is believed by its authors to be the largest research on CFS in children to date, was published inPediatrics.

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