Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is a confusing illness, rarely experienced before the teen years. It most commonly affects adults aged 20-40, but it also affects 1 in 100 teenagers in the UK and in some cases younger children. Since symptoms of CFS are vague and often associated with other ailments such as anaemia, viral infections, depression, and kidney disease, it is difficult to diagnose. And in fact, since there is no proven reliable cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a doctor may try to treat for other possibilities before drawing the conclusion of CFS.
What are the Symptoms of CFS?
The clearest symptom is chronic fatigue lasting six months or more. What is meant by ‘chronic fatigue’ is extreme tiredness or weakness, making everyday tasks difficult or impossible to perform. This level of tiredness does not improve with bed rest or any other treatment from the doctor for other possible illnesses. In addition, there may be forgetfulness or lack of concentration, flu-like symptoms (sore throat, tender lymph nodes, muscle or joint pain), or headaches of a different pattern, type or severity. Sufferers may also experience unrefreshing sleep along with feelings of illness or depression for 24 hours or more after being active.
In teenagers, CFS will demonstrate itself as more than just the usual teenage sleepiness. Young people will feel desperately tired, resulting in them not being able to get up for school, or concentrate in class. Often their social lives will begin to suffer first, as they will not even be able to motivate themselves for social activities. Children may take longer to get over colds, or may seem generally unwell for long periods of time. CFS can also be misdiagnosed as anxiety or depression, as symptoms are often very similar.
Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
New research has shown that a form of behavioural therapy can help sufferers to deal with their symptoms. The new therapy is currently being trialled by the NHS and involves intensive online therapy sessions to adjust the sufferers sleeping habits and activity levels. The technique has also been tested in the Netherlands, with 63% of participants showing no symptoms after six months.
Additionally, it is important for young people with CFS to continue to do regular, paced exercise followed by rest. Research has shown that those who try to remain as active as possible and remain in control of their lives show the best chances of improvement. Other recommendations include utilising stress management techniques, maintaining a healthy diet, and relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation, massage, and acupuncture.
In some cases, doctors may prescribe medication such as antidepressants to help with symptoms of mood and to help regulate their sleep.
Diagnosing and dealing with CFS as a parent
If you suspect that your child may be suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, speak to your doctor. It is particularly important to speak to someone if the symptoms are causing your child to miss school on a regular basis. It may be useful to keep a record of your child’s symptoms, particularly those in younger children, to show your GP during your appointment. Since there is no current diagnostic test which allows a doctor to find out definitively whether a child has CFS, the diagnostic process involves a look into the child’s medical history, and a ruling out of other possible illnesses. It is because of this that it may take some time before a definite diagnosis is reached.
There are a number of support groups available for parents, such as AYME, providing advice and guidance on how best to help your child, not only with managing physically but also in continuing their education and maintaining friendships.
If you have any concerns about your child’s health, or have reason to suspect they may be suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, contact your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you are able to begin treating CFS, the more chance your child has of managing the illness.