Internet treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome highly effective

March 15, 2012

The developers of a dedicated, Internet-based therapeutic application for adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome-myalgic encephalomyelitis-say that in a study of treatment through the Fatigue In Teenagers on the interNET program, 63% of adolescents reported having recovered after 6 months, almost 8 times as many as those given standard care. Now effective treatment for adolescents suffering with chronic fatigue could be as close as their laptops.

The developers of a dedicated, Internet-based therapeutic application for adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)-myalgic encephalomyelitis-say that in a study of treatment through the Fatigue In Teenagers on the interNET (FITNET) program, 63% of adolescents reported having recovered after 6 months, almost 8 times as many as those given standard care.

The open-label study involved 135 adolescents aged 12 to 18 years who had been diagnosed with CFS; 68 were assigned to FITNET cognitive behavioral therapy and 67 to usual care. Primary outcomes of school attendance, fatigue severity, and physical functioning were assessed at 6 months and again at 12 months with computerized questionnaires.

Recovery was defined as having at 6 months a fatigue severity score of less than 40, physical functioning score of 85% or more, and school absence of 10% or less in the past 2 weeks. Additionally, patients had to rate themselves as being completely recovered or as feeling much better.

FITNET was significantly more effective than was usual care for all dichotomized primary outcomes at 6 months: full school attendance, 50 (75%) in FITNET versus 10 (16%) in usual care; absence of severe fatigue, 57 (85%) versus 17 (27%); and normal physical functioning, 52 (78%) versus 13 (20%). No serious adverse events were reported. In patients who reported recovering, treatment success persisted at 12-month follow-up.

The Internet-based program uses existing protocols and a theoretical model of effective, face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy for adolescents, specifically designed for those with CFS and their parents. A skilled therapist provides support through regular e-mail consultations.

The researchers point out that Internet-based treatment is available at any time; avoids face-to-face treatment barriers such as poor accessibility, scheduling appointments, missing school or work, and travelling to or from a clinician's office; and reduces treatment time and costs.

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