Research: Reporting of harms associated with GET and CBT in ME/CFS, Bulletin of the IACFS/ME, December 2011

December 28, 2011

From the Bulletin of the International Association for CFS/ME, 2011;19(2):59-111. © 2011 IACFS/ME

Reporting of Harms Associated with Graded Exercise Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Tom Kindlon
Information Officer (voluntary position)
Irish ME/CFS Association
PO Box 3075, Dublin 2, Rep. of Ireland
Tel: +353-1-2350965
Email: or


Across different medical fields, authors have placed a greater emphasis on the reporting of efficacy measures than harms in randomised controlled trials (RCTs), particularly of nonpharmacologic interventions. To rectify this situation, the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) group and other researchers have issued guidance to improve the reporting of harms. Graded Exercise Therapy (GET) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) based on increasing activity levels are often recommended for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). However, exercise-related physiological abnormalities have been documented in recent studies and high rates of adverse reactions to exercise have been recorded in a number of patient surveys. Fifty-one percent of survey respondents (range 28-82%, n=4338, 8 surveys) reported that GET worsened their health while 20% of respondents (range 7-38%, n=1808, 5 surveys) reported similar results for CBT.

Using the CONSORT guidelines as a starting point, this paper identifies problems with the reporting of harms in previous RCTs and suggests potential strategies for improvement in the future. Issues involving the heterogeneity of subjects and interventions, tracking of adverse events, trial participants’ compliance to therapies, and measurement of harms using patient-oriented and objective outcome measures are discussed. The recently published PACE (Pacing, graded activity, and cognitive behaviour therapy: a randomised evaluation) trial which explicitly aimed to assess “safety”, as well as effectiveness, is also analysed in detail. Healthcare professionals, researchers and patients need high quality data on harms to appropriately assess the risks versus benefits of CBT and GET.

A pdf of the full text of this paper can be obtained by clicking HERE.

Among sources cited by Mr Kindlon is the ME Association's 2010 illness management survey: “Managing my M.E. – What people with ME/CFS and their carers want from the UK’s health and social services”. Gawcott, England: ME Association; May 2010. Available here.

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