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Chronic fatigue syndrome affects 2% of teens, study finds

Chronic fatigue syndrome is more common than originally thought, affecting nearly 2% of teenagers, researchers have concluded. 

Researchers, who surveyed 16 year-olds and their parents about mood and behaviour, found that 1 in 50 teens are likely to experience CFS for more than three months, with girls almost twice as likely as boys to be affected.

Teenagers with higher levels of family adversity were also found to be at a higher risk of CFS in the study.

The researchers admitted a diagnosis of CFS was made from judging questionnaire responses rather than through a clinical classification.

But the researchers believe this was adequate and said: ‘We are as confident as we can be that we have the right prevalence figures here. [The teenagers] weren’t diagnosed by a doctor but you can’t do that as half wouldn’t turn up’.

The study, published in Pediatrics, concluded that there needs to be more awareness of the condition to ensure that teens are diagnosed correctly.

The researchers write: ‘Awareness needs to be raised to ensure that families of children affected by CFS access specialist medical care, and that paediatricians and those looking after children are trained in the identification and management of CFS.’

Experts believe that the study has highlighted the need to diagnose and start treatment for CFS sooner in teenagers.

Dr Phillip Hammond, a former GP and commentator on health issues, said: ‘We need to be more proactive in spotting [CFS] and starting treatment. GPs are vastly over worked at present but as a former GP, I think there is much we can do to help those with milder forms of the illness.

‘I think at the very least GPs should know where the nearest specialist centre is and what the referral criteria are for assessment and treatment, although currently it is something of a postcode lottery.’

Mary-Jane Willows, chief executive of Association of Young People with ME, added: ‘Our own research in 2015 revealed that 94% of children with CFS reported being disbelieved and, combined with the results of this study, we hope this unequivocal need for a far better level of understanding from health and education professionals will signal the beginning in a shift in access to treatment, with currently only 10% having access to a specialist’

A previous Dutch study in 2011 estimated the incidence of CFS in teens to be around 0.1%.


Readers' comments (16)

  • @10:37

    Don't give up yet - there is a lot of great work being carried out in Norway by Fluge and Mella and in the US.

    In Norway they are running phase 3 trials of Rituximab as a treatment for patients with CFS/ME as a substantial percentage of patients responded well to the drug in phase 2 trials. They hypothesise that CFS/ME is an autoimmune disease as they believe this may be why the disease responds so well to B-cell depletion.

    "Even a GP my daughter saw a couple of weeks ago because she needed a letter of evidence stated, "Well I feel tired in the mornings too. You just have to push yourself!"."

    That doctors even try to compare their tiredness from overwork to the fatigue experienced by untreated diseased patients points to a high degree of self-centredness. Staying up night after night working and doing 16 hour shifts day after day is nothing compared to the fatigue that comes with untreated disease.

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  • Does CFS entitle one to disability benefits?

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  • Dear
    |Anonymous | Practice nurse|03 Feb 2016 10:37pm

    I apologise for me earlier comment re: 99% of GPs. It was in no way meant to belittled those who suffer from CFS, a condition I have witnessed in practice and do not doubt it's debilitating effect on sufferers and their families.
    Mine was just meant to be a silly but topical political point that I never expected to be seen by patients or their rellies on this website - more fool me!!!

    Chastened GP - 8.14PM

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  • Before we accept the ENORMOUS cost of rituximab for this condition we would have to have MUCH more rigorous diagnostics than some questionnaire.

    Like it or not, many people who say they have CFS do not have any such thing. Some are depressed, some are psychologically incapacitated, and I'm afraid some can't be bothered or are after the benefits and sympathy attached to it.

    Rituximab would not help any of these people. We need to understand GENUINE CFS before we look at any of these things

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  • @ "medical student". You have posted many ignorant and offensive comments on pulse over the last week or so and I find it hard to believe you actually are a medical student. However if you are I do hope you adjust your attitude when dealing with patients.

    Yes the malingerers are attracted to a CFS / Fibromyalgia like flies to excrement, but I've seen plenty genuinely suffering inexplicable pain and fatigue too. To dismiss them all as lazy or crazy is unhelpful.

    Although one does have to question the criteria when it applies to 2% of all teenagers.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    I only really saw one "sane" patient with it, and he got better after 2 years. Certainly, IIRC, it did begin with a "viral"-type illness.
    Has anyone tried Amantadine? Can work well in people with fatigue who have MS. Fatigue is a well-recognized symptom in MS, but not the sameas "CFS" in any way.

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