Adolescent’s descriptions of fatigue, fluctuation and payback in chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy (CFS/ME): Interviews with  adolescents and parents, by Roxanne M Parslow, Nina Anderson, Danielle Byrne, Alison Shaw, Kirstie L Haywood, Esther Crawley in BMJ Paediatrics Open Vol 2, #1, December 4, 2018

What this study hopes to add?

  • All adolescents describe unique aspects of fatigue in CFS/ME; how it fluctuates naturally day to day but can also get worse following activity (payback).
  • The individual experience of fatigue varies in severity, frequency, the amount of activity taken to cause payback as well as the resulting impact on function.
  • The variation in the experience of fatigue needs to be taken into account in treatment.

Research abstract:

As part of a larger qualitative study to explore outcomes important in paediatric chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy (CFS/ME) and what improvements in fatigue and disability are key, interviews were undertaken with adolescents and their parents. This paper focuses on their descriptions of fatigue, fluctuation of symptoms and payback.

Design and setting:
Semistructured qualitative interviews were undertaken between December 2014 and February 2015. Adolescents and parents were interviewed separately. Participants were recruited from a single specialist paediatric chronic fatigue service. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using thematic analysis.

We interviewed 21 adolescents and their parents (20 mothers and 2 fathers). The adolescents were aged between 12 and 17 years of age (mean age 14.4 years), mild to moderately affected by CFS/ME (not housebound) and the majority were female (16/21).

All adolescents with CFS/ME reported fatigue, a natural fluctuation of the condition, with good days and bad days as well as an increase in symptoms after activity (payback). However, adolescent’s descriptions of fatigue, symptoms and the associated impact on their daily lives differed. The variations included: fatigue versus a collection of symptoms, constant versus variable symptoms and variable symptom severity. There were differences between participants in the amount of activity taken to cause payback. The impact of fatigue and symptoms on function ranged from: limiting the duration and amount of leisure activities, struggling with daily activities (eg, self-care) to no activity (sedentary).

Fatigue, fluctuation of the condition and payback after activity are described by all adolescents with CFS/ME in this study. However, the individual experience in terms of how they describe it and the degree and impact varies.

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