What Can Help Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A HealthCentral Explainer

CRegal Editor
  • It has long been suggested that exercise can be very useful in managing chronic pain conditions, including chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).  There’s no question that exercise can be helpful in keeping your body active, your muscles strong and the positive psychological benefits of exercise flowing.  Unfortunately, due to the very nature of ME/CFS, exercise isn't always the easiest thing; if you are constantly in an exhausted, run-down mental and physical state, exercise doesn’t seem to be much of an option. In the past, we have recommended tips for exercising with chronic pain, including giving yoga and water exercise a shot.  Of course, even this can be too much for some CFS patients.

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    However, a new research study out of the United Kingdom has identified exercise and behavioral therapies as the most cost-effective treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome.  That may sound reasonable, but a lot of CFS sufferers don’t think it’s very realistic. That, no doubt, is true for many CFS patients, but how the condition is manifested can range widely.


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    Behavioral therapies, also identified as a cost-effective means of treating ME/CFS, may be a bit less controversial than the exercise recommendation.  The study noted that "changing how people think about their symptoms" is a reasonable means to making progress with the condition.  This is nothing new, as a 2007 article in Pain identified cognitive-behavioral therapy as being effective for some chronic pain conditions.  However, due to the varying degrees of severity and different symptoms among ME/CFS patients, this form of treatment is far from a one-size-fits-all approach.


    There is one major catch to this study, however.  It was published by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, which is a very different system than that in the United States.  This study refers to exercise and behavioral therapy as the most cost-effective means to treat ME/CFS.  In the British system where health insurance is entirely funded by the government, the NHS must strongly consider cost when searching for solutions to conditions. 


    Many opioid medications or intensive massage treatment can be expensive.  Other medications used to treat ME/CFS, including antidepressants, anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids and antivirals can add up as well. 


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    Take this study with a grain of salt.  Many patient groups were upset that the NHS concluded that exercise and behavioral therapies would be the most cost-effective treatments going forward. It’s true that exercise and behavioral therapy may be the answer for some, but for many CFS sufferers, it not really an option.  


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    BBC News.  (1 August 2012).  "Chronic fatigue syndrome: Brain training is most cost-effective treatment."  BBC News: Health.  Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19076398.


Published On: August 16, 2012