Teenagers as young as 16 are experiencing chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), say researchers, adding that it shows that the condition is much more common in them than previously thought.

The team from the University of Bristol in Britain found that almost two percent of 16-year-olds have CFS lasting more than six months and nearly three percent have CFS lasting more than three months.

Those suffering from CFS missed, on average, more than half a day of school every week. CFS — also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) — is a very debilitating illness which has a huge impact on the lives of children and their families.

“As paediatricians, we need to get better at identifying CFS/ME, particularly in those children from disadvantaged backgrounds who may be less able to access specialist care,” said senior study author Dr Esther Crawley,

consultant paediatrician specialising in CFS/ME.

The researchers looked at the condition in 5,756 participants and found that girls were almost twice as likely as boys to have the condition. Children from families experiencing greater adversity were more likely to have the condition, dispelling the commonly held view that CFS is a “middle class” illness.

According to Sonya Chowdhury, chief executive of the non-profit organisation Action for ME, the reality is that many young people miss considerably more than half a day of school a week, while for the most severely affected, their disabling symptoms are compounded by the isolation and loss that comes with being house and/or bed-bound.

“This important study, analysing data from parent and child-completed questionnaires, highlights the increased prevalence of ME among 16-year-olds, pointing with even greater urgency to the need for effective treatments,” she noted.

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