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Adrienne Dellwo

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & School Absences

By December 19, 2011

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Research Brief

A large study out of England shows that many kids with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) are undiagnosed and that unexplained school absences can help spot those cases.

Researchers looked at attendance records for 2855 students who'd missed at least 20% of school days over a 6-week period, excluding those who were out of town, had a known short-term illness, or had otherwise explained absences. They then contacted parents about the absences and examined the children.

As a result, 23 children were newly diagnosed with ME/CFS, including one who had to be assessed at home because of severe illness. Five other children with frequent absences had previously been diagnosed with ME/CFS. That means about 1% of children in the sample had the condition. However, researchers point out that 39 families were contacted regarding absences but did not respond, and it's statistically likely that a few of those children had ME/CFS as well.

Researchers also identified 14 children with mood disorders and 5 children with other medical problems.

The Study's Impact

A lot of people will disregard this study because it was done using the controversial British criteria and treatment protocol, often referred to as biopsychosocial. While I'm not a fan of that view of ME/CFS, I think we can take a few things of value from this work:

  1. A lot of kids have undiagnosed ME/CFS
  2. Undiagnosed ME/CFS leads to a lot of missed school
  3. School absence records can indicate which kids who should be screened

The main message is that parents, schools and doctors need to be more aware of juvenile ME/CFS and its warning signs so we can get kids diagnosed and treated. We know that early intervention leads to better outcomes, especially in children.

The U.S. faces a real problem with this kind of early identification because teachers generally have too many kids in their classrooms and the school nurse is a thing of the past for most districts. Add to that the general disbelief in ME/CFS, and our sick kids have a lot working against them.

Does a child in your life have ME/CFS? Has your child been missing a lot of school due to fatigue that doctors can't figure out? Did you have juvenile ME/CFS? Leave your comments below!

Learn more or join the conversation!


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December 19, 2011 at 6:06 pm
(1) Huh? says:

The looser criteria reinforces the point of Crawley & the others quoted in the news on this garbage that CBT & GET are useful therapies for people with this illness.

Diagnosing people who have ME/CFS according to the CCC and ICC is a worthwhile goal. Not calling someone out who’s currently trialing the Lightning Process in children for trying to claim that a LOT more people have this disease than actually have it…

December 19, 2011 at 9:58 pm
(2) Heike says:

Sorry, but I think this “study” says nothing about the prevalence of ME/CFS because they used the so called NICE guidelines for it. What means: everybody who has a kind of fatigue plus one other symptom should have already ME/CFS. Do you think so?

December 20, 2011 at 9:21 am
(3) Rachael says:

If these children have CFS/ME (Canadian criteria), I can’t begin to imagine what they have to contend with on a daily basis. It’s bad enough being an adult having to deal with this illness (that makes you feel like you have the flu 24/7), but imagine a poor child being sick with CFS/ME and having to listen to know-it-all medical professionals telling them, that if they only tried a little harder, or exercised a little more their illness would magically disappear. What a nightmare for these poor kids!

December 24, 2011 at 12:10 am
(4) Annette says:

My 17 yr old granddaughter had mono about 4 years ago. After getting over the acute stage, she was then diagnosed as being a chronic carrier of mono and also told by the doctor she had CFS. She has suffered greatly ever since. She missed a lot of school and just recently had to try to make up work to try to get enough credits to continue her studies for Junior year and then to graduate. She got them done, then the school changed the rules on her and now she will not be able to graduate with her class. Believe me, the young suffer as much or more than we older people do. After getting told she couldn’t graduate, her depression was out of control for a few days.
She is back on track now, and will be finishing her schooling at a Satellite School, but it is expensive and the drive is about 30 miles away from her home.
I guess it is worth it but if her regular school had done what they said, she could have had her Sr. Prom and graduated with her class.. now she has this as her alternative.

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