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Adolescent’s descriptions of fatigue, fluctuation and payback in chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy (CFS/ME): interviews with adolescents and parents

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000281
Number of pages6
JournalBMJ Paediatrics Open
Issue number1
Early online date4 Dec 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 16 Sep 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 4 Dec 2018
DatePublished (current) - Jan 2019


Objective 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.

Participants 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).

Results 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).

Conclusions 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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