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Chronic Fatigue Tied to Extended School Absences

Undiagnosed cases of the syndrome may affect 1% of students aged 11 to 16, study suggests

TUESDAY, Dec. 13, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Undiagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome may account for up to 1 percent of children who are absent from school for extended periods of time and are not truant or known to have another illness that would explain why they're out of school, a new study reveals.

For the study, researchers examined data from 2,855 students aged 11 to 16 at three secondary schools in England and concluded that undiagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) was responsible for 28 of the students being away from school for more than 20 percent of the time over six weeks.

"There are several possible reasons why children missing significant amounts of school with CFS/ME are not identified," Dr. Esther Crawley, of the Center for Child and Adolescent Health at University of Bristol and colleagues, wrote in the report published online Dec. 12 in the journal BMJ Open.

"Those with mild or moderate CFS/ME may not see their GP [general practitioner] or may not be recognized as having CFS/ME if they are seen. Alternatively, GPs and pediatricians may not be aware of specialist CFS/ME services or may feel that the child's [condition] is not sufficiently serious to warrant a referral," they explained in the report.

"This project suggests that undiagnosed CFS/ME . . . may be an important and underappreciated cause of school absence in children aged 11 to 16 years," Crawley and colleagues concluded.

The researchers also compared students with CFS/ME who were referred to a specialist by a school-based clinic with those who were referred to specialist services by health care professionals.

There were no differences in how long either group had CFS/ME, which was an average of just over 18 months. But the children identified by school-based clinics had less fatigue, less disability and fewer symptoms than those identified by health care professionals.

The children identified by school-based clinics also seemed to recover from CFS/ME more quickly, the investigators noted in a journal news release.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about chronic fatigue syndrome and children.

SOURCE: BMJ Open, news release, Dec. 12, 2011
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