Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a chronic, complex illness characterized by overwhelming fatigue that can cause considerable distress and disability. According to the CDC, people with CFS most often function at a substantially lower level of activity than they were capable of before the onset of illness. People with chronic fatigue syndrome report various nonspecific symptoms, including weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory and/or mental concentration, insomnia, and post-exertional fatigue lasting more than 24 hours. In some cases, CFS can persist for years.
Some estimates suggest it may affect as many as 1 in 100 of the population globally. There is no widely accepted explanation for the disease and patients are currently offered a variety of different treatments.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is defined by a person having severe chronic fatigue of six months or longer duration with other known medical conditions excluded by clinical diagnosis; and having four or more of the following symptoms: substantial impairment in short-term memory or concentration; sore throat; tender lymph nodes; muscle pain; multi-joint pain without swelling or redness; headaches of a new type, pattern or severity; unrefreshing sleep; and post-exertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours. The symptoms must have persisted or recurred during six or more consecutive months of illness and must not have predated the fatigue.
Cognitive behavior therapy is effective in treating the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, according to a recent systematic review carried out by Cochrane Researchers.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) uses psychological techniques to balance negative thoughts that may impair recovery with more realistic alternatives. In treating CFS, these techniques are combined with a gradual increase in activity levels.
The researchers looked at data from 15 studies involving a total of 1,043 patients with CFS. The studies compared the effects of CBT with those of usual care and other psychological therapies and suggest that in both cases CBT is more effective at reducing the severity of symptoms, provided patients persist with treatment.
Further research is required to determine whether CBT is more beneficial than other forms of treatment, such as exercise and relaxation therapies. The researchers also suggest that CBT could be more effective if used as part of a combination treatment approach.
“CFS is a challenging illness for patients, and there is ongoing controversy about its causes. There remain unanswered questions, but the available evidence is clear – CBT can help many people with CFS”, says lead researcher Jonathan Price, who works at the University of Oxford in the UK.
Price JR, Mitchell E, Tidy E, Hunot V. (2008). Cognitive behaviour therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001027. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001027.pub2.