The protocol for a randomised controlled trial comparing intermittent and graded exercise to usual care for chronic fatigue syndrome patients

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Broadbent, S & Coutts, R 2013, 'The protocol for a randomised controlled trial comparing intermittent and graded exercise to usual care for chronic fatigue syndrome patients', BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, vol. 5, no. 16.

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BACKGROUND: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a debilitating disorder with an unknown aetiology but suspected multifactorial origins. Common "triggers" include severe viral infections and emotional stress. Recent studies have also found evidence of immune dysfunction and elevated inflammatory cytokines in CFS patients, but there has been considerable variation in the outcome measures and magnitude of these studies. Currently, there is no cure for CFS but treatments include rest, specialist medical care, cognitive behavioural therapy, and graded (self-paced) exercise. To date, several studies have examined the efficacy of graded exercise with or without Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, with some success for patients. However, improvements in functional capacity have not necessarily correlated with improvements in immune function, fatigue or other symptoms. This 12-week pilot trial compares graded and intermittent exercise to normal care, measuring physiological outcomes, fatigue levels, immune function and wellness.Methods/design: 90 patients aged between 16 to 60 years, who meet the diagnostic criteria for CFS and have been diagnosed by their medical practitioner, will be randomly recruited into groups consisting of Intermittent exercise, Graded exercise and usual care (Control). The outcomes will be measured pre-study (Week 0) and post-study (Week 13). Primary outcomes are VO2peak, anaerobic threshold, peak power, levels of fatigue, immune cell (CD3+CD4+, CD3+CD8+, CD19+, CD 16+CD56+) concentrations and activation. Secondary outcomes include onset of secondary CFS symptoms (e.g. fever, swollen lymph nodes), wellness, mood and sleep patterns. Primary analysis will be based on intention to treat using logistic regression models to compare treatments. Quantitative data will be analysed using repeated measures ANOVA with a linear model, and Cohen's effect size. Qualitative data such as participants' responses (e.g. changes in mood and other reactions) following the exercise modalities will be read and sections demarcated. A code will be applied to each segment. A prevalence of codes will be considered thematically.

DISCUSSION: The results of the trial will provide information about the efficacy of intermittent and graded exercise compared to usual care (rest and lifestyle recommendations), contributing to the evidence for best-practice CFS management.Trial registration: Australia and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12612001241820.

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