‘It’s all in your head’: Half of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome claim they are dismissed by doctors who say the illness is psychological
- Study found that 40% of patients avoided A&E due to bad experiences
- There is a ‘profound lack of understanding’ in A&E, study authors said
- The condition, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, can be misdiagnosed
Almost half of people suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have been dismissed by doctors who claim their illness is psychological.
Scientists have warned there is a ‘profound’ lack of understanding of the condition, also known as ME, in hospital settings.
Around 40 per cent of patients avoid going to A&E in fear they won’t be taken seriously because of claims it’s ‘all in their heads’, a study found.
The Georgetown University Medical Centre study is the first known investigation into how CFS is treated in the emergency department.
It suggests the majority of patients are not receiving proper care, or being misdiagnosed with something else.
Almost half of people suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have been dismissed by doctors who tell them it’s ‘all in their heads’, a study has found
The study was conducted on 282 participants, who were predominantly women, educated, and had physician-diagnosed CFS.
Only 30 per cent of patients reported receiving appropriate treatment in an emergency, according to the research.
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‘The high proportion of patients who were basically told “It is all in your head” by ED staff indicates that there is much misunderstanding and misgivings about thediagnosis of CFS,’ said the study’s lead author, Dr James N Baraniuk said.
‘These patients should feel they are respected and that they can receive thorough care when they feel sick enough to go to an ED.’
Two-thirds of respondents reported that they’d either not go to an emergency department because they believed they wouldn’t be taken seriously, or had previous unsatisfactory experiences, Dr Baraniuk said.
WHAT IS CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or myalgic encephalopathy (ME) causes patients to suffer severe and debilitating fatigue.
Other symptoms include painful muscles, disturbed sleep, poor memory and reduced concentration.
In many causes CFS’ cause is unclear, however, it has been linked to infections, operations and accidents.
Some patients return to full health and others deteriorate progressively, however, most fluctuate between good and bad periods.
There is no cure for CFS, with the majority of treatments to reduce symptoms being ineffective.
CFS has attrracted controversy with many doctors previously questioning whether it is a true condition.
The World Health Organization and the Department of Health recognise CFS as a medical condition.
The findings, published in the journal Open Access Emergency Medicine, found that 42 per cent of patients were dismissed as having psychosomatic complaints.
And 41 per cent didn’t go to an emergency department when they were ill because they felt that nothing could be done or wouldn’t be taken seriously.
The main reason people went to A&E was because they were experiencing orthostatic intolerance, which is when someone feels faint when standing or sitting upright.
‘This is of importance because it provides a starting point for diagnosis and treatment by ED physicians,’ Dr Baraniuk said.
Other symptoms of the condition include painful muscles, disturbed sleep, poor memory and cognitive function.
If more medical staff understood CFS, people are less likely to be dismissed with another condition, Dr Baraniuk said.
Often people were considered to have an intolerance to alcohol or even exercise, according to Christian Timbol, an emergency medicine resident physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and study co-author.
Dr Baraniuk said: ‘There is a real need for physician education that will improve their efficiency in identifying and treating CFS and in distinguishing CFS symptoms from other diseases in the exam room.’
‘An already-available CFS Symptom Severity Questionnaire can be used in the ED to assist with the diagnosis of CFS, and to differentiate exacerbations of CFS symptoms from medical emergencies such as heart attacks or infections.
‘This condition is something that can be readily addressed by ED caregivers.’
Worldwide it is believed that 17 million people suffer with CFS, according to the ME Association.
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