Treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome and the Internet: a systematic survey of what your patients are reading

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2002 Apr;36(2):240-5. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1614.2002.01017.x.


Objective: To evaluate the type, quality, and focus of patient information on the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome on the Internet using simple search techniques.

Design: The search phrase 'chronic fatigue syndrome' was entered into nine common Internet search engines. The 25 most highly ranked pages identified by each of the nine search engines were analysed using a standardized pro forma. The following outcome measures were used: balance of content, consistency of content with evidence-based practice, declared authorship with credentials, information sources including the presence of references, the declaration of any potential conflict of interest, and the need to clarify information with an appropriate health professional.

Results: Two hundred and twenty-five websites were reviewed during a 2-week period in September 2000. A further 15 sites (6.3%) were inaccessible. Agreement between websites and systematic reviews of treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome ranged from 4 to 68%, the greatest agreement being for recommendations for graded exercise and the avoidance of prolonged rest. Most sites (64%) had a named author. Only a quarter to a third contained a declaration of interest, advised readers to clarify information with an appropriate health professional, or avoided inaccurate statements.

Conclusions: The Internet contains a great deal of information on chronic fatigue syndrome that is neither balanced nor consistent with evidence-based practice. Doctors individually, and as a profession, should provide guidance on which Internet sites to trust.

MeSH terms

  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / therapy*
  • Health Education / standards*
  • Humans
  • Information Services / standards*
  • Internet*