Objective: To review and synthesize findings across qualitative studies on Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
Methods: Articles were systematically reviewed and analyzed within a meta-analytic framework. Analyses included a multi-perspective examination of ME/CFS, as well as a comparative analysis of ME/CFS versus other chronic conditions.
Results: Thirty-four qualitative studies on ME/CFS were included. Findings include three substantive thematic areas that focus on: (1) experiences of people with ME/CFS, (2) experiences of physicians, and (3) themes that intersect both of these groups. For patients, illness development influenced identity, reductions in functioning, and coping. Physician-specific themes described lack of awareness about ME/CFS and recommended improvement in educational resources. Intersecting themes expressed issues with diagnosis creating tensions and fueling the stigmatization of ME/CFS.
Conclusions: Findings indicate multilayered, context-specific experiences and ways in which both people with ME/CFS, as well as those involved in their lives (e.g., family or the medical community), interpret this illness. Future qualitative studies should recognize the various facets of the ME/CFS experience, the network members of people with ME/CFS, and the sociocultural environment through which the illness is understood.
Practice implications: Health care professionals can gain unique insight from patient experiences, allowing for more accurate diagnoses and treatment recommendations.
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