Undiagnosed chronic fatigue may explain frequent school absence

February 2, 2012

Undiagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis is an important but underappreciated cause of frequent school absence in secondary school children, British researchers report. Outcomes are better in children when their symptoms are identified in school-based clinics, but why?

Undiagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is an important but underappreciated cause of frequent school absence in secondary school children, according to British researchers.

In a study of the feasibility of identifying children with undiagnosed CFS/ME in school-based clinics, attendance officers in 3 secondary schools in England identified all children aged 11 to 16 years who had missed 20% or more of school days in a 6-week term. Students with a known reason for absence, such as a medical illness or truancy, were excluded from the study.

Children with fatigue were referred to a specialist CFS/ME service for further evaluation, and those with a confirmed diagnosis of CFS/ME were offered specialist care. Children with CFS/ME identified by a school-based clinic were compared with those referred by health services.

Of 461 students who had missed 20% or more of school, 28 (6.1%) had CFS/ME. Only 3 of these children had been previously diagnosed and received specialist treatment. Children with CFS/ME identified by a school-based clinic had been ill for a similar length of time as those referred by health services, but they had less fatigue, less pain, less physical disability, and fewer symptoms.

Of 19 children followed, 12 had fully recovered and were attending school full time at 6 months. The findings suggest that offering specialist services to children with CFS/ME identified by school-based clinics may reduce school absence.

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