Background: Although medical requirements are urgent, no effective intervention has been proven for chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). To facilitate the development of new therapeutics, we systematically reviewed the randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for CFS/ME to date.
Methods: RCTs targeting CFS/ME were surveyed using two electronic databases, PubMed and the Cochrane library, through April 2019. We included only RCTs that targeted fatigue-related symptoms, and we analyzed the data in terms of the characteristics of the participants, case definitions, primary measurements, and interventions with overall outcomes.
Results: Among 513 potentially relevant articles, 55 RCTs met our inclusion criteria; these included 25 RCTs of 22 different pharmacological interventions, 28 RCTs of 18 non-pharmacological interventions and 2 RCTs of combined interventions. These studies accounted for a total of 6316 participants (1568 males and 4748 females, 5859 adults and 457 adolescents). CDC 1994 (Fukuda) criteria were mostly used for case definitions (42 RCTs, 76.4%), and the primary measurement tools included the Checklist Individual Strength (CIS, 36.4%) and the 36-item Short Form health survey (SF-36, 30.9%). Eight interventions showed statistical significance: 3 pharmacological (Staphypan Berna, Poly(I):poly(C12U) and CoQ10 + NADH) and 5 non-pharmacological therapies (cognitive-behavior-therapy-related treatments, graded-exercise-related therapies, rehabilitation, acupuncture and abdominal tuina). However, there was no definitely effective intervention with coherence and reproducibility.
Conclusions: This systematic review integrates the comprehensive features of previous RCTs for CFS/ME and reflects on their limitations and perspectives in the process of developing new interventions.
Keywords: Chronic fatigue syndrome; Myalgic encephalomyelitis; RCT; Review.