2 percent of U.K. 16-year-olds have chronic fatigue syndrome

Many teenagers are not believed when reporting symptoms of the condition.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 25, 2016 at 12:18 PM

BRISTOL, England, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Researchers in England were surprised to find higher rates of chronic fatigue syndrome in teenagers than has been expected, based on recent surveys of parents and teenagers.

CFS has been commonly regarded as a "middle-class illness," however the new University of Bristol study shows higher numbers of teens dealing with the condition come from families facing greater adversity -- part of which is responsible for the lack of recognition of the full scope of the illness.

CFS is characterized by exhaustion, weakness, impaired memory or concentration, and insomnia, affecting an estimated 0.2 percent to 2.3 percent of children and teenagers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Evidence confirming the condition as being not only really common but, more significantly, evidence reflecting the high level of suffering with which they are forced to live," said Mary-Jane Willows, chief executive of the Association of Young People with ME, in a press release.

"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 per cent having access to a specialist," Willows added. "We also hope this research leads to a reduction in the high number of unjustified allegations of harm made against parents."

For the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data on 5,756 teenagers who participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

Among all teenagers, 1.86 percent experienced CFS lasting 6 months or more, though after excluding children with high levels of depressive symptoms that number dropped to 0.60 percent. Among the teens in the study, researchers found the number of authorized school absences and reported depressive symptoms were much higher in those with CFS.

"This is an important study because it shows that CFS is much more common in teenagers than previously recognized," said Dr. Esther Crawley, a consultant pediatrician at the University of Bristol. "Treatment at this age is effective for most children but few have access to treatment in the UK. Children attending my specialist service at the Royal United Hospital in Bath only attend two days a week of school on average. This means that only the most severe cases are getting help."

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