CBT/GET is ineffective and potentially harmful. ME/CFS patients seem to die considerably younger.
As has been established by the Bagnall et al. (1) and the Price et
al. (2), the solution proposed by Santhouse (3) cognitive behavioural
therapy (CBT)/graded exercise therapy (GET) reduced "fatigue severity" in
40% of chronic fatigued people, in contrast with 26% in usual care.
Taking into consideration the placebo effect, the fact that a
reduction in "fatigue" is not reflected by objective improvement (4, 5),
the fact that the evidence base for CBT and GET is almost non-existent,
etc. one must conclude that CBT and GET is not effective.
Moreover, as established by large patient surveys, e.g. (6, 7), and
by clinical practice (5), CBT/GET has a negative effect on the
symptomology of many ME/CFS patients (pain, muscle weakness,
neurocognitive impairment etc.)
This can be explained by the fact that exertion, and thus GET,
intensifies the pre-existing pathophysiology: inflammation, immune
dysfunction, immunosuppression, (persistent) infections, oxidative and
nitrosative stress and their sequels, e.g. mitochondrial
damage/dysfunction and a disturbed circulation (8, 9).
All in all, CBT/GET is a non-evidenced based therapy and even
potentially harmful for many ME/CFS patients (10).
Santhouse also asserts incorrectly that 'the greatest risk to life is
likely to be suicide' and 'this is often linked to depression that can be
A study into the causes of death by a Jason (11) established that
±20% of the patients had died from cancer, ±20% had died as the
consequence of heart failure, and ±20% as a result of suicide.
The mean age of those who died from cancer and suicide was 47.8 and
39.3 years, respectively, which is ±24 years younger than those who died
from cancer and suicide in the general population.
The pathological abnormalities established in ME/CFS repeatedly
plausibly explain an increased risk for cancer (12)and heart failure (13).
Certainly it is warranted to treat depression in ME/CFS.
However, succesfully treating depression, e.g. by antidepressants,
has no effect on characteristic physical and cognitive ME/CVS symptoms
(14, 15, 16).
In conclusion, the comments made by Santhouse do not seem to be very
Ironically, the CBT/GET mantra by Santhouse and colleagues and denial
of serious biological aberrations is exactly the reason why many patients
feel that 'the medical profession has given up to them'.
It is about time the medical profession takes this devastating
illness seriously by exploring the biological abnormalities in depth and
developing effective therapies aimed at these aberrations.
So the death of Lynn Gilderdale and many others will not be in vain.
1. Bagnall A, Hempel S, Chambers D, Orton V, Forbes C. The Treatment and
Management of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in Adults
and Children. Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), University of
York. 2007; CRD Report 35:161.
2. Price JR, Mitchell E, Tidy E, Hunot V. Cognitive behaviour therapy
for chronic fatigue syndrome in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008
3. Santhouse AM, Hotopf M, David AS. Chronic fatigue syndrome. BMJ.
11 February 2010. doi:10.1136/bmj.c738.
4. Wiborg JF, Knoop H, Stulemeijer M, Prins JB, Bleijenberg G. How
does cognitive behaviour therapy reduce fatigue in patients with chronic
fatigue syndrome? The role of physical activity. Psychol Med. 2010 Jan 5:1
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CFS reference [Akkoordraad in het kader van de revalidatieovereenkomsten
inzake ten laste neming door Referentiecentra van patiënten lijdend aan
het Chronisch vermoeidheidssyndroom] [Dutch]. Evaluation Report (2002-
2004) with respect to Rehabilitation Contracts between the RIZIV and the
CFS Reference Centers [Evaluation Report 2002-2004 with respect to
rehabilitation contracts between the RIZIV and the CFS Reference Centers]
[Dutch). 2006, July.
6. Action for M.E./AfME. Scotland M.E./CFS Scoping Exercise Report.
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treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome] [Article in Norwegian]. Tidsskr Nor
Laegeforen. 2009 Jun 11;129(12):1214-6.
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DL, Richards SC, Montgomery J, Baldwin DA, et al. Gene expression subtypes
in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis. J
Infect Dis. 2008 Apr 15;197(8):1171-1184.
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signature for post-infectious chronic fatigue syndrome. BMC Medical
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and graded exercise therapy (GET) in myalgic encephalomyelitis
(ME)/chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS): CBT/GET is not only ineffective and
not evidence-based, but also potentially harmful for many patients with
ME/CFS. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2009 Aug 26;30(3):284-299.
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(2006). Causes of death among patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
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similarities between cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome: the common link
to fatigue? Anticancer Res. 2009 Nov;29(11):4717-26.
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syndrome (ME/CFS) may kill you: disorders in the inflammatory and
oxidative and nitrosative stress (IO&NS) pathways may explain
cardiovascular disorders in ME/CFS. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2009;30(6):677-
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JF, Galama JM, van der Meer JW, Bleijenberg G. Randomised, double-blind,
placebo-controlled study of fluoxetine in chronic fatigue syndrome.
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effects of moclobemide in patients with the chronic fatigue syndrome. Int
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Competing interests: No competing interests