A new study by the University of Edinburgh suggests that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can be reversed with counselling and exercise.
Scientists, who spent eight years on the research, hope their findings will dispel the widely held belief that nothing can be done for those living with the condition. Currently there are estimated to be 250,000 sufferers in the UK.
Researchers found six in ten patients reported significant improvements after undergoing either cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a type of counselling which helps people take charge of issues, while encouraging them to increase their activity – or graded exercise therapy (GET), which is based on gradually increasing exercise.
Half of these people reported a return to “normal” energy levels. However, the study showed one of the most common CFS treatments has no definitive medical benefit.
Adaptive pacing therapy (APT), which teaches patients to match their activity level to the amount of energy they have, does little more than help sufferers manage their illness, the study showed.
Though widely advocated, this is the first time the therapy has been scientifically tested. Michael Sharpe, Professor of Psychological Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the report, said scientists had achieved a significant “milestone” by proving GET and CBT were both effective and safe.
“Previously it has been thought that these treatments could harm patients and there was a very confused picture,” he said. “This trial has clarified that picture, finding both GET and CBT have substantial beneficial effects and they are safe if delivered properly.”
Action for ME said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the results of the study, insisting its claims were “exaggerated”.
Chief Executive, Sir Peter Spencer, said the findings contradicted evidence from the charity’s own surveys and those of other patient groups.
“The Pace trial was limited to patients who were well enough to travel to hospital for therapy and those who had fatigue as a primary symptom,” he said.