Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Rare in Teens, but When it Hits, it Hits Hard, Study Shows

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Teens, Sleep

chronic fatigue syndrome

Only a small fraction of teens end up with chronic fatigue syndrome. Credit: Getty Images

With the late-night hours they keep, it's hard to believe more teens aren't chronically knocked off their feet with exhaustion.

But a new study confirms that only a small fraction of teens end up with chronic fatigue syndrome. But when it hits, it hits hard. It also uncovers what parents who struggle to stay awake in the wee hours of the morning to enforce curfews for this nocturnal breed have intuitively known: A lack of sleep wipes out the parents, Reuters Health reports.

A survey of Dutch adolescents suggests only one in 900 teens suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), defined by the Centers for Disease Control as "a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity."

Sounds just like what they say strikes the parents of teens, especially those who have to miss work to care for their teen offspring afflicted with chronic fatigue, Reuters says the researchers suggest.

Among those teens diagnosed with CFS, more than 90 percent had at least missed "considerable" school in the last six months; with some saying they had not attended school at all during that time. The study was published recently in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers say the findings are significant because CFS has "severe implications for school participation, etc., necessitating adequate diagnosis and treatment," Sanne Nijhof of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands tells Reuters.

The impact is felt by many more people than the patient, Katharine Rimes of King's College in London, tells the news service.

"Missing substantial amounts of school can potentially have profound effects on their educational, social and emotional development," Rimes tells Reuters. "It also has potentially serious impact on the family. If the child is off school, one parent -- usually the mother -- usually has to stay at home to care for them, and often give up their job altogether. This can obviously have adverse financial and psychological effects."

There is no cure for CFS and scientists don't know what causes it, the researchers tell Reuters.

Of potential concern, the authors note, is that the condition appears to be "under-recognized" by primary care physicians. Only half of all general practitioners who agreed to participate in the study said they accepted CFS as a distinct diagnosis, versus 96 percent of the pediatricians consulted during the study.

And nearly 75 percent of teens with CFS were not diagnosed by their general practitioners. This lack of awareness probably stems from the condition's infrequency, Nijhof tells the news service.

"Adolescents with severe and long-lasting fatigue should be referred to a pediatrician," Rimes tells Reuters.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.