Effectiveness of internet-based cognitive behavioural treatment for adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome (FITNET): a randomised controlled trial

Lancet. 2012 Apr 14;379(9824):1412-8. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60025-7. Epub 2012 Mar 3.


Background: Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterised by persistent fatigue and severe disability. Cognitive behavioural therapy seems to be a promising treatment, but its availability is restricted. We developed Fatigue In Teenagers on the interNET (FITNET), the first dedicated internet-based therapeutic program for adolescents with this disorder, and compared its effectiveness with that of usual care.

Methods: Adolescents aged 12-18 years with chronic fatigue syndrome were assigned to FITNET or usual care in a 1:1 ratio at one tertiary treatment centre in the Netherlands by use of a computer-generated blocked randomisation allocation schedule. The study was open label. Primary outcomes were school attendance, fatigue severity, and physical functioning, and were assessed at 6 months with computerised questionnaires. Analysis was by intention to treat. Thereafter, all patients were offered FITNET if needed. This trial is registered, number ISRCTN59878666.

Findings: 68 of 135 adolescents were assigned to FITNET and 67 to usual care, and 67 and 64, respectively, were analysed. FITNET was significantly more effective than was usual care for all dichotomised primary outcomes at 6 months-full school attendance (50 [75%] vs 10 [16%], relative risk 4·8, 95% CI 2·7-8·9; p<0·0001), absence of severe fatigue (57 [85%] vs 17 [27%], 3·2, 2·1-4·9; p<0·0001), and normal physical functioning (52 [78%] vs 13 [20%], 3·8, 2·3-6·3; p<0·0001). No serious adverse events were reported.

Interpretation: FITNET offers a readily accessible and highly effective treatment for adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome. The results of this study justify implementation on a broader scale.

Funding: Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Patient Compliance
  • Reference Values
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN59878666