Paediatric chronic fatigue syndrome patients’ and parents’ perceptions of recovery, by Matthew Robert Harland, Roxanne Morin Parslow, Nina Anderson, Danielle Byrne, Esther Crawley in BMJ Paediatrics Open Vol 3, #1, Dec 2, 2019


Research abstract:

What is known about the subject?

  • Little is known about how to define recovery in the paediatric chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) population.

What this study adds?

  • Children and their parents struggle to define what would constitute a complete recovery as CFS/ME has become a ‘new normal’.
  • There is wide variation in definitions of recovery between individuals.
  • Recovery definitions go beyond symptom reduction and focus on returning to or achieving the same activity as peers, without payback and with flexibility in routine.

Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is common in children and adolescents; however, little is known about how we should define recovery. This study aims to explore perceptions of recovery held by paediatric patients with CFS/ME and their parents.

Children with CFS/ME and their parents were recruited through a single specialist paediatric CFS/ME service. Data were collected through semistructured interviews with children and parents. The interview questions explored how participants would know if they/their child had recovered from CFS/ME. Thematic analysis was used to identify patterns within the data.

Twenty-one children with CFS/ME, twenty mothers and two fathers were interviewed. Some children found it hard to define recovery as the illness had become a ‘new normal’. Others thought recovery would indicate returning to pre-morbid levels of activity or achieving the same activity level as peers (socialising, education and leisure activities). Increased flexibility in routines and the absence of payback after activities were important. The interviews highlighted the concept of recovery as highly individual with wide variation in symptoms experienced, type and level of activity that would signify recovery. Parents describe how changes in mood and motivation would signify their child’s recovery, but children did not reflect on this.

Some parents and children struggle to define what would constitute complete recovery. However, signs of recovery were more easily identifiable. Definitions of recovery went far beyond symptom reduction and were focused towards rebuilding lives.

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