Literature review | Nature of chronic fatigue syndrome | January 2013

From the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, short reports, January 2013. Open access article.

Views on the nature of chronic fatigue syndrome: content analysis

Zahra Hossenbaccus(1) and Peter D White (2)
(1) Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University London, London, UK
(2) Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University London, London, UK

Abstract

OBJECTIVES

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), has provoked much controversy and led to arguments between the medical profession and patient organizations. A particular focus for debate is the categorization of the condition as physical or psychological in its nature. The aim of this study was to compare how the written media, patient organizations and medical authorities regard the illness.

DESIGN

Content analysis of newspaper articles, ME patient organization websites, and medical websites and textbooks were assessed by two independent assessors.

SETTING

Three national UK newspapers, UK ME websites, and UK medical websites and textbooks, were accessed during 2010.

PARTICIPANTS

146 source files were scored from 36 patients’ organizations, 72 media articles and 38 medical authorities.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURED

The overall opinion of an article or website was rated using a five point Likert scale, from ‘extremely psychological’ (scored as 1), ‘moderately psychological’ (2), ‘both psychological and physical’ (3), ‘moderately physical’ (4) or ‘extremely physical’ (5).

RESULTS

Eighty-nine percent (32 of 36) of ME patient organizations considered the illness to be physical, compared with 58% (42/72) of newspaper articles, and 24% (9/38) of medical authorities. Sixty-three percent (24/38) of medical authorities regarded the illness as both physical and psychological. The inter-group differences of the Likert scores were statistically significant (χ2 = 27.37, 2 df, P < 0.001). CONCLUSION The considerable disagreement, particularly between ME patient organizations and medical authorities, may help to explain the gulf in understanding between doctors and patients and the consequent reluctance of some patients to engage in behavioural treatments.

ME CONNECT HELPLINE

0344 576 5326

Available every day of the week between these times: 10am - 12noon, 2pm - 4pm and 7pm - 9pm.

Calls cost the same as other standard landline numbers (starting 01 or 02). If you have a call package for your landline or mobile phone then calls will normally come out of your inclusive minutes.