Web-based therapy may be better at treating teenagers with chronic fatigue syndrome than normal therapy, according to a new study.
Around 250,000 people in the UK suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). It causes a persistent fatigue that affects everyday life, and doesn’t go away with sleep or rest.
Currently, there is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, and treatment can only ease the symptoms. Because it is a chronic condition, health insurers will not cover the cost of private treatment, and sufferers have to rely on the NHS.
However, Dutch researchers from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht have discovered that web-based psychotherapy could prove a successful method of treating the condition.
Writing in The Lancet journal, researchers looked at 135 adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome. Half were given standard treatment with individual or group therapy and exercise therapy, and the remainder were enrolled into Fitnet.
Fitnet is a web-based psychotherapy programme that tries to replicate face to face cognitive behavioural therapy online, with a skilled therapist to provide support via email.
After six months, 85 per cent of the Fitnet group said they had no severe fatigue, compared with just 27 per cent in the standard treatment group.
In addition, 75 per cent of the Fitnet adolescents were attending school fully, compared with just 16 per cent of those receiving standard treatment. Similar results were seen after a year.
Participants enrolled in the Fitnet programme logged on to the software an average of 255 times and emailed the therapists on average 90 times, making it much more intensive than standard treatment.
Professors Peter White, from Barts and the London School of Medicine, and Trudie Chalder, from King's College London, both psychologists, said that the Dutch researchers should be congratulated for carrying out the research.
"They have added to an increasing evidence base which shows that therapist-aided, internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy is an effective treatment for many similar disorders."
However, they said that the response to conventional psychotherapy seemed unusually poor, and that there was no guarantee that similar results would be achieved among adult patients. In addition, finding enough therapists to carry out the treatment may be a problem in some areas.
However, if a cure for chronic disease syndrome could be found, patients could one day be covered for it on their private medical insurance policy. Cancer drug Rituximab has also recently been shown to successfully treat the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
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