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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%.