Prognosis of adolescents diagnosed with ME/CFS

Elisha K Josev, Rebecca C Cole, Adam Scheinberg, Katherine Rowe, Lionel Lubitz & Sarah J Knight

Neurodisability and Rehabilitation, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia

Journal of Clinical Medicine, 2021 August 16; 10(16):3603

Key findings

  • Australian adolescents newly diagnosed with ME/CFS were followed up between one and five years later to look at changes in their health and symptoms.
  • While measures of health and psychological wellbeing did improve over time, fatigue, pain and health-related quality of life remained poorer than in control subjects, and 65% of patients continued to fulfil diagnostic criteria for ME/CFS.
  • The persistence in ME/CFS symptoms highlights the need for intervention at the time of diagnosis in this age group, and helps provide a realistic prognosis.


This research was supported by ME Research UK.


Background: The purpose of this study was to follow-up an Australian cohort of adolescents newly-diagnosed with ME/CFS at a tertiary paediatric ME/CFS clinic and healthy controls over a mean period of two years (range 1–5 years) from diagnosis. Objectives were to (a) examine changes over time in health and psychological wellbeing, (b) track ME/CFS symptomatology and fulfillment of paediatric ME/CFS diagnostic criteria over time, and (c) determine baseline predictors of ME/CFS criteria fulfilment at follow-up.

Methods: 34 participants aged 13–18 years (25 ME/CFS, 23 controls) completed standardised questionnaires at diagnosis (baseline) and follow-up assessing fatigue, sleep quality and hygiene, pain, anxiety, depression, and health-related quality of life. ME/CFS symptomatology and diagnostic criteria fulfilment was also recorded.

Results: ME/CFS patients showed significant improvement in most health and psychological wellbeing domains over time, compared with controls who remained relatively stable. However, fatigue, pain, and health-related quality of life remained significantly poorer amongst ME/CFS patients compared with controls at follow-up. Sixty-five percent of ME/CFS patients at baseline continued to fulfil ME/CFS diagnostic criteria at follow-up, with pain the most frequently experienced symptom. Eighty-two percent of patients at follow-up self-reported that they still had ME/CFS, with 79% of these patients fulfilling criteria. No significant baseline predictors of ME/CFS criteria fulfilment at follow-up were observed, although pain experienced at baseline was significantly associated with criteria fulfilment at follow-up (= 0.6, = 0.02).

Conclusions: The majority of Australian adolescents with ME/CFS continue to fulfil diagnostic criteria at follow-up, with fatigue, pain, and health-related quality of life representing domains particularly relevant to perpetuation of ME/CFS symptoms in the early years following diagnosis. This has direct clinical impact for treating clinicians in providing a more realistic prognosis and highlighting the need for intervention with young people with ME/CFS at the initial diagnosis and start of treatment.

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