Previous clinical reports have addressed the utilization of health care provided to patients with chronic fatiguing illnesses, including chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), by a variety of practitioners, but never examined the spectrum of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies used, according to researchers of the study “Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapy Utilization by People with Chronic Fatiguing Illnesses in the United States.”

In the study, researchers measured CAM therapy use by people in the United States with chronic fatiguing illnesses, and evaluated variables associated with their utilization.

Researchers conducted the study using a random-digit dialing survey and conducted detailed phone interviews to estimate the prevalence of CFS-like illness in urban and rural populations from different geographic regions of the country. Participants included 440 people between the ages of 18 and 69 who were identified by the household informant as being fatigued and 444 people who were identified as nonfatigued.

Individuals who reported fatigue that lasted between one and five months were classified as having prolonged fatigue; those with more than six months of fatigue were classified as having chronic fatigue; and those with less than one month of fatigue were classified as nonfatigued. Of the fatigued subjects, 53 were classified with prolonged fatigue, 338 with chronic fatigue and 49 with symptom criteria for a CFS-like illness.

Participants were asked about their utilization of CAM therapies, including body-based therapies, such as massage therapy; alternative medical systems, such as homeopathy; mind-body interventions, such as biofeedback and relaxation techniques; biologically-based therapies, such as herbal supplements and vitamins; and energy therapies, such as acupuncture and energy healing.

Overall, 77 percent of participants reported using some form of CAM therapy in the 12-month period prior to the interview. Use of any CAM modality was reported more frequently in women (56.8 percent) than men (44.2 percent). Use of CAM therapies were used more commonly in the fatigued subjects (81.6 percent) than among nonfatigued participants (72.5 percent).

Mind-body therapy, primarily prayer, was the most frequently used CAM modality among all groups; however, people with CFS-like illness were significantly more likely to used body-based therapy, such as massage or chiropractic, than nonfatigued participants.

According to the study, utilization of CAM was largely accounted for by the presence of underlying conditions and poor physical and mental health. Researchers say the observations of the study have “important implications for provider education programs and development of intervention strategies for CFS.”

Source: Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia. Authors: James F. Jones, Elizabeth M. Maloney, Roumiana Boneva, Ann-Britt Jones and William C. Reeves. Originally published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2007, 7:12.