Experiences of pain in paediatric chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis: a single-centre qualitative study

BMJ Paediatr Open. 2022 Feb;6(1):e001201. doi: 10.1136/bmjpo-2021-001201. Epub 2022 Feb 15.


BACKGROUND: Moderate to severe pain affects up to two-thirds of children with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) and is associated with worse fatigue and physical functioning. This research aims to gain a greater insight into pain experienced by these children.

METHODS: Thematic analysis of qualitative data from semistructured interviews with 13 children with CFS/ME (mean age=15.3 years, 67% female) was completed.

RESULTS: Thematic analysis enabled construction of three themes: children’s wide-ranging experiences of pain, negative impact of pain and lack of effective treatment for pain and nine subthemes. The first theme demonstrated highly varied pain experiences, ranging from ‘like [being]… on fire’, like ‘being stabbed’ to ‘like…lead’. Children experienced pain in multiple sites and with wide-ranging frequency and severity. The second theme highlighted the profound negative impact of pain on multiple aspects of children’s lives. Physical activity was severely impaired; some children ‘couldn’t leave bed’ or ‘couldn’t…brush [their] own hair’. Abdominal pain meant some would ‘go…days without eating’. Pain substantially impacted on mental health, leaving children feeling ‘agitated’, experiencing ‘really bad panic attacks’ or making them ‘[want to] breakdown’. Children felt they ‘can’t do the things that everyone else can do’, had ‘missed out’ and are ‘behind everyone’. Some avoided socialising as they ‘don’t want to stop everyone else’. The final theme demonstrates the absence of adequate treatment for pain, with participants reporting ‘nothing has ever really got rid of it’ and only ‘slightly [takes] the edge off’ and other experiencing side effects.

CONCLUSIONS: Pain in paediatric CFS/ME is highly variable, common and often results in severe physical limitation and poor mental health. Effective treatments for pain represent an unmet need.

PMID:36053633 | DOI:10.1136/bmjpo-2021-001201

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