Treatment and management of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis: all roads lead to Rome

Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Mar;174(5):345-369. doi: 10.1111/bph.13702. Epub 2017 Feb 1.


This review explores the current evidence on benefits and harms of therapeutic interventions in chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) and makes recommendations. CFS/ME is a complex, multi-system, chronic medical condition whose pathophysiology remains unknown. No established diagnostic tests exist nor are any FDA-approved drugs available for treatment. Because of the range of symptoms of CFS/ME, treatment approaches vary widely. Studies undertaken have heterogeneous designs and are limited by sample size, length of follow-up, applicability and methodological quality. The use of rintatolimod and rituximab as well as counselling, behavioural and rehabilitation therapy programs may be of benefit for CFS/ME, but the evidence of their effectiveness is still limited. Similarly, adaptive pacing appears to offer some benefits, but the results are debatable: so is the use of nutritional supplements, which may be of value to CFS/ME patients with biochemically proven deficiencies. To summarize, the recommended treatment strategies should include proper administration of nutritional supplements in CFS/ME patients with demonstrated deficiencies and personalized pacing programs to relieve symptoms and improve performance of daily activities, but a larger randomized controlled trial (RCT) evaluation is required to confirm these preliminary observations. At present, no firm conclusions can be drawn because the few RCTs undertaken to date have been small-scale, with a high risk of bias, and have used different case definitions. Further, RCTs are now urgently needed with rigorous experimental designs and appropriate data analysis, focusing particularly on the comparison of outcomes measures according to clinical presentation, patient characteristics, case criteria and degree of disability (i.e. severely ill ME cases or bedridden).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / methods
  • Poly I-C / therapeutic use
  • Poly U / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Research Design*
  • Rituximab / therapeutic use


  • Poly U
  • Rituximab
  • poly(I).poly(c12,U)
  • Poly I-C