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Web-Based Therapy May Help Teens With Chronic Fatigue

THURSDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- Teens with chronic fatigue syndrome, which can cause poor concentration and memory as well as joint and muscle pain, may benefit from an Internet-based treatment known as FITNET, a new study has found.

Researchers in the Netherlands studied teens with the debilitating condition and found that 63 percent reported that they felt better or had recovered after six months of the Web-based therapy, according to the report published online March 1 in The Lancet.

FITNET gave the teens electronic access to cognitive behavior therapy, which has shown promising results for this age group.

"With FITNET, effective treatment is within reach for any adolescent with [chronic fatigue syndrome]. These findings stress the need for proper and rapid diagnosis and making medical professionals aware of adolescent [chronic fatigue syndrome] and the treatment options," study author Sanne Nijhof, from the University Medical Centre Utrecht, said in a journal news release.

In the study, which included 135 teens who suffered from the syndrome for nearly two years, patients were randomly assigned to receive either FITNET or standard therapy, largely consisting of individual and group cognitive behavior therapy or exercise therapy.

The teens also completed questionnaires on how their treatment affected their fatigue, physical functioning and self-rated improvement. The researchers also took into account the students' school absences.

After six months, 85 percent of the teens using the Web-based therapy reported their severe fatigue was gone, while 27 percent of the teens using the standard treatment said the same. Meanwhile, 78 percent of the FITNET teens reported normal physical functioning, compared to 20 percent of the standard therapy group, the investigators found.

The researchers also noted that 75 percent of the FITNET teens had full school attendance, compared with 16 percent of their peers receiving standard therapy. Teens who switched to FITNET or continued using the Web-based therapy for another six months enjoyed similar positive results, the findings showed.

"Internet-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, traveling to or from a clinician's office), and reduces treatment time and costs," Nijhof and colleagues said in the news release.

"FITNET offers a readily accessible and highly effective treatment for adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome. The results of this study justify implementation on a broader scale," they concluded.

The authors of an accompanying journal said "the investigators should be congratulated on testing a way to deliver an already effective treatment [cognitive behavior therapy] more efficiently."

The goal of cognitive behavior therapy is to understand how your thoughts can influence your stress and symptoms.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about chronic fatigue syndrome and kids.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Feb. 29, 2012

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