In the largest study to date of children and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), U.K. researchers discovered CSF is not an uncommon diagnosis for children and teens.
CFS is a debilitating disorder characterized by profound fatigue and cognitive difficulty that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Although the condition is normally associated with adult health, children and especially teens may be affected.
Researchers at the University of Bristol (U.K.) discovered two percent of 16 year olds have CSF lasting more that six months and nearly three percent have CFS lasting more than three months. They also found those with CFS missed, on average, more than half a day of school every week.
CSF is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). In children, particularly in adolescents, CFS/ME is more likely to develop after an acute flu-like or mononucleosis-like illness, but gradual onset of the illness may occur.
In the study, researchers looked at the condition in 5,756 participants and found that girls were almost twice as likely as boys to have the condition. This is because CFS/ME became more common in girls between 13 and 16 but not in boys.
Children from families experiencing greater adversity were more likely to have the condition, dispelling the commonly held view that CFS is a “middle-class” illness or “yuppie-flu.” The definition of adversity included poor housing, financial difficulties, and a lack of practical and/or emotional support for the mother.
The researchers point out that the diagnosis of CFS was not made by a doctor but is based on responses to questionnaires sent to both the teenagers and their parents.
Dr. Esther Crawley, a consultant pediatrician specializing in CFS/ME and the senior author of the report, said, “This is an important study because it shows that CFS/ME is much more common in teenagers than previously recognized. Treatment at this age is effective for most children but few have access to treatment in the UK. This means that only the most severe cases are getting help.
“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.”
Dr. Simon Collin, the report’s lead author, added, “CFS is a very debilitating illness which has a huge impact on the lives of children and their families, and the results of our study underscore the need for further research into the causes of, and improved treatments for, pediatric CFS.”
Mary-Jane Willows, chief executive of the Association of Young People with ME, noted, “Our own research in 2015 revealed that 94 per cent of children with ME/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 percent having access to a specialist.”