Counselling and exercise could help reverse the effects of ME, a new study has suggested.
Experts have identified two types of treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, potentially helping thousands of sufferers.
It is a widely accepted belief that ME cannot be cured, but the landmark study - which is the most comprehensive to date - questions this.
Scientists involved in the research spent eight years working on it, and believe that it could spark a new era of ME treatment.
They hope the result will change the belief that nothing can be done for the quarter of a million sufferers who are living with the condition in the UK.
Researchers found six in 10 patients reported significant improvements after undergoing either cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), while encouraging them to increase their activity - or graded exercise therapy, which is based on gradually increasing exercise.
Half of these people reported a return to “normal” energy levels.
However, the study showed one of the most common CFS treatments has no definitive medical benefit.
Adaptive pacing therapy, which teaches patients to match their activity level to the amount of energy they have, does little more than help sufferers manage their illness, the study showed.
Though it has been widely advocated, the therapy has never before been scientifically tested.
Michael Sharpe, professor of psychological medicine at the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the report, said scientists had achieved a significant “milestone” by proving exercise therapy and CBT were both effective and safe.
Pacing, graded Activity and Cognitive behaviour therapy: a randomised Evaluation is published in The Lancet.
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.
- White PD, et al. Comparison of adaptive pacing therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, graded exercise therapy, and specialist medical care for chronic fatigue syndrome (PACE): a randomised trial. The Lancet 2011; Advance online publicaton
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