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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in Children and Adolescents

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disabling illness of unknown cause and origin. CFS is often thought of as a problem in adults, but it also affects children and adolescents. Between 0.2% and 2.3% of children or adolescents suffer from CFS. CFS is more prevalent in adolescents than in younger children. In children, particularly in adolescents, CFS is more likely to develop after an acute flu-like or mononucleosis-like illness, but gradual onset of illness may occur. Currently, the diagnosis is made on the basis of ruling out other conditions that could explain most of CFS symptoms.

Definition and Diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in Children and Adolescents

Several case definitions can be used to diagnose CFS in adults. Examples include the 1994 International CFS Case Definition, the 2003 Clinical Canadian ME/CFS case definition, and the 2011 International Consensus Criteria for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). These three case definitions include a criterion that the individual must have had severe chronic fatigue for 6 or more months. While the 1994 International CFS Case Definition has been primarily used to diagnose CFS in adults, it is also used to diagnose children and adolescents. In 2006, the International Association of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Pediatric Case Definition Working group developed a case definition specifically for children and adolescents with ME/CFS. This definition requires a 3-month duration of fatigue. However, many doctors treating children and adolescents may not feel comfortable making a final CFS diagnosis after only 3 months.

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Management and Treatment of CFS in Children and Adolescents

Managing chronic fatigue syndrome can be as complex as the illness itself. Options for treating and managing CFS may include treating the most disruptive symptoms such as fatigue due to sleep problems, pain, and lightheadedness. CFS symptoms can vary over time and may require periodic re-evaluation. Primary care providers can develop effective treatment plans based on their experience in treating other complex illnesses. Management may require input from a variety of healthcare professionals (e.g. medical doctors, rehabilitation specialists, mental health professionals, and physical or exercise therapists) when available.

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Factsheets

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in children and adolescents is a complicated condition that can be challenging for everyone involved. This page contains printer-friendly factsheets with information about child and adolescent CFS specifically for healthcare professionals, parents, and education professionals.

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