Online therapy is more effective for exhausted teens with chronic fatigue syndrome than traditional in-person therapy, according to new research.
Exhausted teens fared better with behavioral therapists over webcams who gave addition support through email, compared with teens treated with exercise and in-person therapy sessions, according to the research.
Online-treated teens reported higher school attendance, more energy and better overall health, compared with their in-person treated peers, according to the study.
Researchers from the Utrecht University Medical Center in The Netherlands followed 135 teens over the course of a year. Half of the participants received standard treatments of exercise and one-on-one therapy sessions with a behavioral therapist, and the other half received online therapy through a program called FITNET - Fatigue In Teenagers on the interNET - created by the researchers.
Web-based treatment has general advantages: it is available at any time, avoids face-to-face treatment barriers (i.e., treatment delay due to poor accessibility, inconvenience of scheduling appointments, missing school or work, travelling to or from a clinician's office), and reduces treatment time and costs, the authors wrote.
Chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a condition characterized by fatigue, impaired memory, muscle and joint pain, headaches, night sweats and psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and mood swings. The disease can be debilitating and often causes missed work and school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The cause of the disorder is not known and usually starts suddenly with flu-like symptoms.
After six months of therapy, 85 percent of the FITNET group reported no severe fatigue compared to only 27 percent from the standard treatment group, according to the study.
In addition, 75 percent of the FITNET group stayed enrolled in school full time compared to 16 percent from the standard treatment group.
The trend remained after a year of therapy.
What is exciting about this trial is that these researchers have made the delivery of an effective treatment for CFS more convenient, more accessible, and possibly more cost-effective, Dr. Peter White, a chronic fatigue syndrome researcher at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, who was not involved with the study, told WebMD.
White said many people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome have a hard time finding treatment due to a lack of qualified therapists.
FITNET offers a readily accessible and highly effective treatment for adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome, the authors wrote. The results of this study justify implementation on a broader scale.
No word on when chronic fatigue syndrome patients will be able to use FITNET themselves.
The Lancet published the study Thursday.
Some chronic fatigue syndrome researchers are skeptical of the results.
I find it hard to believe that an Internet-delivered cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) programme can produce a 63 percent recovery rate over a six month period Dr. Charles Shepherd, a medical advisor for the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Association, a group that funds research for the condition, said in a statement.
The success rate is far in excess of any other published clinical trial, he continued. He also said that the results are not consistent with chronic fatigue syndrome studies that had a larger sample size.
Chronic fatigue syndrome affects over 1 million Americans, according to the CDC. Missed work and school days, doctor visits and other healthcare costs related to the condition total $9.1 billion annually, according to a 2004 Neuropsychology Review study.