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Study gives hope to ME patients

New research is challenging the belief that ME cannot be cured, giving hope to thousands of sufferers.

The eight-year study, hailed as a "milestone", suggests that the condition can be reversed with the help of counselling and exercise.

The researchers believe they have found two types of treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS): cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), along with exercise; and graded exercise therapy (GET), which increases exercise activity in gradual stages.

It is hoped the research will provide a treatment for the thousands of people in the UK diagnosed with ME, which currently equates to around a quarter of a million.

According to the data, six in 10 patients recorded significant improvements after receiving CBT or GET, with 50% of these regarding their energy levels returning to "normal".

However, adaptive pacing therapy (APT), a common treatment for CFS, which encourages patients to match their activities to their energy levels, was found to have little effect, only helping sufferers to manage and maintain their condition.

Although it has been widely advocated, the therapy has never before been scientifically tested.

The CBT or GET treatments have been described as effective and safe by the report's co-author, Michael Sharpe, Professor of Psychological Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

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.

Pacing, graded Activity and Cognitive behaviour therapy: a randomised Evaluation is published in The Lancet.

Copyright © Press Association 2011

The Lancet

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"The creation of the CFS 'diagnosis' has been terrible for patients. For 9 years I have suffered from crippling fatigue, with doctors trying to treat my beliefs rather than find the cause of my symptoms. I worked very hard to increase the amount of exercise I did, but it only made me worse. Just one month ago, following my own research on the internet, I was able to see a specialist in connective tissue disorders. They informed me that I suffered from type III Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Part of the advice they gave me was to avoid doing exactly the sort of exercises which previous doctors have told me to increase, and claimed
would lead to a full recovery. Not only have I lost 9 years of my life to this disease, but I also had to put up with patronising quacks trying to convince me that I had control over my symptoms, and I needed to recognise their psychological and
emotional origins in order to recover. Now it seems that all these abusive approaches to medicine are able to achieve is slight changes in some of the answers patients provide to their questionnaires, yet Hans Knoop hopes this will convince people that CFS can be treated! When medicine abandons the truth in order to encourage false but 'healthy' beliefs, patients will always suffer. I just hope that one day those responsible will be held to account" - Name and address supplied