Teens with chronic fatigue find relief online

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It's no secret that Millennials, having grown up with the Internet, are as comfortable in the virtual world as they are in the real world. That comfort level could have some profound outcomes for teens afflicted with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), according to a new study.

The study, released March 1 in The Lancet found that teens with CFS who received online behavioral therapy saw far more successful results than their offline counterparts. Dutch researchers randomly assigned 135 teens diagnosed with CFS to two separate study groups: individual or group psychotherapy versus a web-based treatment program administered through an online application called FitNet.

After six months, 85 percent of the teenagers using FitNet reported an absence of severe fatigue, compared to only 27 percent of those teens receiving in-person treatment. Perhaps more importantly, 78 percent of the online group returned to normal physical functioning, versus 20 percent of their offline counterparts. As a result, seventy five percent of the online teen population returned to school, while only 16 percent of the in-person treatment group returned to school.

The ease of access to online therapy probably had a lot to do with the successful outcomes of the study, according to researcher Sanne Niihof, MD, a researcher at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, Netherlands, where the study took place.

"The use of Internet seems to appeal to modern youth reflected in our high participation rate (96 percent of eligible adolescents entered the study) and follow-up rates (97 percent)," the lead researcher, Dr. Nijhof, told the NPR Shots blog.

The teenagers didn't have to travel to make appointments, and could work through the online assignments at their own pace, according to the NPR article.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, better known as behavior modification, teaches people to change certain behaviors--how they think and respond to certain situations--through positive reinforcement while eliminating other, less desired behaviors. The therapy is effective in the fatigue, joint pain and poor memory and concentration suffered by CFS patients, CBCNews.com reported.

The CBCNews.com article also points out that the FitNet program involved both teens and their parents in education and email consults. Patients were able to log into a secure site--any time night or day--to compose and send emails. While a therapist responded on a pre-arranged day and time, emergency emails received an immediate response. FitNet participants logged in an average of 255 times and emailed therapists an average of 90 times--input that likely contributed to the positive response to behavioral therapy.

The study concluded that the results of the study justify FitNet implementation on a broader scale.

To learn more:
- read the NPR blog post
- see the CBCNews report
- check out the Lancet study

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