GPs are failing to take chronic fatigue syndrome (CSF/ME) seriously in young teens, leading to the condition being an "under-appreciated" cause of extended school absence.
Research, published in BMJ Open, claims CFS may account for up to 1% of children who take extended time off from school.
Previous estimates suggest the prevalence of CHF among children ranges between 0.1% and 0.5%.
Just under 3,000 pupils aged 11-16 years-old in schools in the south west of England took part in the study.
Known truants and those children with a known medical reason to explain their absence were exempt.
Three of the 461 children who had missed more than 20% of classes in six weeks were found to have an undiagnosed form of CFS; two had already been diagnosed with the condition – not known to the school - and 23 were newly diagnosed with CFS.
This adds up to 28 out of 2855 children with CFS – or 1% of children with extended absence.
"Those with moderate/mild [symptoms] may not see their GP or may not be recognised as having [the condition] if they are seen. Alternatively, GPs and paediatricians may not be aware of specialist services or feel that their child's [condition] is sufficiently serious to warrant a referral," said the authors. "This project suggests that undiagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome/ME may be an important and under-appreciated cause of school absence in children aged 11-16 years."
Those children whose condition were picked up in the school-based clinic were found to have less fatigue, less disability, and fewer symptoms than their peers referred to specialist services.
They were also more likely to make rapid progress, with 12 of the 19 children fully recovering from the condition in six months.
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"False beliefs about illness widely held by GPs obscure what should stare them in the face. The Oxford criteria for the disease definition are so broad as to include psychological conditions. The neurological condition can be clearly diagnosed using the Canadian criteria and if these were adopted much of the confusion could be avoided." - Ed Cross, Bath