Children who miss lots of school days ‘may have chronic fatigue syndrome’, Daily Mail, 13 December 2011

December 13, 2011

From the ‘Daily Mail', 13 December 2011 (story by Jenny Hope).

Children who complain they’re too tired to go to school could have chronic fatigue syndrome, say researchers.

They found some youngsters missing more than one-fifth of school time for ‘unexplained reasons’ had the condition.

One in 100 children have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), suggests a new study, but two-thirds made ‘rapid progress’ back to normal school attendance after being diagnosed and treated.

Controversy has raged around the diagnosis and treatment of CFS, also known as myalgic encephalitis or ME, which can affect children as young as five.

Symptoms include flu-like illness, extreme tiredness and mental lethargy, possibly triggered by a viral infection.

Although there is no cure for the disorder, supervised exercise and talking therapies can help overcome the debilitating symptoms.

In the latest study, researchers in Bristol investigated the proportion of children aged 11 to 16 years missing school due to the condition.

Altogether 461 of 2,855 children enrolled at three secondary schools in England had missed more than 20 per cent of school in a six-week term.

For 315 children, the reason for absence was known, including three with diagnosed CFS.

Some 112 of the 146 children with unexplained absence then attended a clinical review at school where 42 were referred on to a specialist clinic. 23 were newly diagnosed with the condition.

From the entire sample of children, 28 of the 2,855 – or one per cent – were diagnosed with CFS.

The researchers found these children tended to have less fatigue and fewer symptoms than those picked up with CFS through health services.

Of 19 children followed up, six had fully recovered after six weeks and a further six had fully recovered after six months.

The authors, writing in the journal BMJ Open, concluded: ‘Chronic fatigue is an important cause of unexplained absence from school.

‘Children diagnosed through school-based clinics are less severely affected than those referred to specialist services and appear to make rapid progress when they access treatment.’

Previous estimates suggest prevalence of CFS/ME among children is between 0.1 per cent and 0.5 per cent, according to the researchers, who come from the Centre for Child and Adolescent Health in Bristol and the University of Bristol.

Dr Charles Shepherd, medical adviser to the ME Association, said: ‘We welcome the key messages to come out of this research because many children with ME/CFS are still having great difficulty in obtaining a diagnosis and as a result are not receiving the educational and social support that they require.’

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