Children's experiences of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME): a systematic review and meta-ethnography of qualitative studies

Roxanne Parslow, Sarah Harris, Jessica Broughton, Adla Alattas, Esther Crawley, Kirstie Haywood, Ali R G Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
349 Downloads (Pure)


To synthesis the qualitative studies of children’s experiences of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME).
Systematic review and meta-ethnography.
Background:CFS/ME is an important disabling illness, with uncertain cause and prognosis. As a result, children with CFS/ME can find themselves living with greater uncertainty and stigma, exacerbating the impact of the condition. There is a growing body of qualitative research in CFS/ME, yet there has been no attempt to systematically synthesis the studies involving children.
Studies exploring the experiences of children diagnosed with CFS/ME, published or unpublished, using qualitative methods were eligible. MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO and CINAHL databases were searched as well as grey literature, reference lists and contacting authors. Quality assessment was done independently using the CASP (Critical Appraisal Skills Programme) checklist. Studies were synthesised using techniques of meta-ethnography.
Ten studies involving 82 children with CFS/ME aged 8-18 were included. Our synthesis describes four third order constructs within children’s experiences. 1) Disruption and loss: physical, social and the self. 2) Barriers to coping: suspension in uncertainty, problems with diagnosis and disbelief 3) Facilitators to coping: reducing uncertainty; credible illness narratives, diagnosis and supportive relationships and 4) Hope, personal growth and recovery. CFS/ME introduces profound biographical disruption through its effects on children’s ability to socialise, perform school and therefore how they see their future. Unfamiliarity of the condition, problems with diagnosis and felt stigma prevent children from forming a new illness identity. Children adopt coping strategies such as building credible explanations for their illness.
Physical, social, emotional and self-dimensions of life should be included when treating and measuring outcomes from healthcare in paediatric CFS/ME. There is a need for greater recognition and diagnosis of childhood CFS/ME, specialist advice on activity management and improved communication between health and education providers to help children cope with their condition.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere012633
Number of pages14
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number1
Early online date13 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


  • Qualitative Research
  • CFS/ME
  • Systematic Review
  • Patient experience
  • Meta-ethnography
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME)
  • children
  • qualitative synthesis


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