Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) is different in children compared to in adults: a study of UK and Dutch clinical cohorts

BMJ Open. 2015 Oct 28;5(10):e008830. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008830.


Objective: To investigate differences between young children, adolescents and adults with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME).

Study design: Comparison of clinical cohorts from 8 paediatric and 27 adult CFS/ME services in the UK and a paediatric randomised controlled trial from the Netherlands. Outcome measures include: fatigue (the UK-Chalder Fatigue Scale); Disability (the UK-SF-36 physical function subscale; the Netherlands-CHQ-CF87); school attendance, pain, anxiety and depression (the UK-Hospital Anxiety & Depression Scale, Spence Children's Anxiety Scale; the Netherlands-Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children, Children's Depression Inventory); symptoms; time-to-assessment; and body mass index. We used multinomial regression to compare younger (aged <12 years) and older (aged 12-18 years) children with adults, and logistic regression to compare UK and Dutch adolescents.

Results: Younger children had a more equal gender balance compared to adolescents and adults. Adults had more disability and fatigue, and had been ill for longer. Younger children were less likely to have cognitive symptoms (OR 0.18 (95% CI 0.13 to 0.25)) and more likely to present with a sore throat (OR 1.42 (1.07 to 1.90). Adolescents were more likely to have headaches (81.1%, OR 1.56 (1.36% to 1.80%)) and less likely to have tender lymph nodes, palpitations, dizziness, general malaise and pain, compared to adults. Adolescents were more likely to have comorbid depression (OR 1.51 (1.33 to 1.72)) and less likely to have anxiety (OR 0.46 (0.41 to 0.53)) compared to adults.

Conclusions: Paediatricians need to recognise that children with CFS/ME present differently from adults. Whether these differences reflect an underlying aetiopathology requires further investigation.

Trial registration numbers: FITNET trial registration numbers are ISRCTN59878666 and NCT00893438. This paper includes secondary (post-results) analysis of data from this trial, but are unrelated to trial outcomes.


Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors*
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression / etiology
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / pathology*
  • Female
  • Headache / etiology
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pharyngitis / etiology
  • Sex Factors
  • Syndrome
  • United Kingdom

Associated data