November 2011


Treating chronic fatigue syndrome

A study into the scientific evidence for pharmacological treatments

Volume 40, No.11, November 2011 Pages 907-912

Sanne Kreijkamp-Kaspers

Ekua Weba Brenu

Sonya Marshall

Don Staines

Mieke van Driel


Chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS), is a severe disabling condition. Patients with CFS usually trial many different medicines, both conventional and complementary. An overview of the pharmacological treatments used by CFS patients and the available evidence underpinning the use of these treatments would be of great value to both patients and their healthcare providers.


Ninety-four CFS patients recruited into an Australian study investigating immunological biomarkers filled out a questionnaire assessing the medicines they were taking. Evidence from randomised clinical trials was sought in biomedical databases.


The 94 CFS patients used 474 different medicines and supplements. The most commonly used medicines were antidepressants, analgesics, sedatives, and B vitamins. We identified 20 randomised controlled trials studying these medicines in CFS patients.


While conventional and complementary medicines are widely used by CFS patients, the evidence for effectiveness in CFS is very limited.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a disabling condition.1,2 In addition to fatigue for more than 6 months that is not relieved by sleep and interferes with activities of daily life, patients suffer other symptoms such as cognitive impairment, muscle and joint pains and sore throat.3 The diagnostic criteria for CFS are outlined in Table 1.

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