Friday, December 18, 2020

CBT for Long COVID and Post COVID-19 Fatigue Syndrome

 

Could Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Be an Effective Treatment for Long COVID and Post COVID-19 Fatigue Syndrome? Lessons from the Qure Study for Q-Fever Fatigue Syndrome

1
Family and Insurance Physician, 1096 HZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2
Independent Researcher, 49032 Osnabrück, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Healthcare 20208(4), 552; https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare8040552
Received: 27 October 2020 / Revised: 7 December 2020 / Accepted: 8 December 2020 / Published: 11 December 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Systematic Evaluation of Chronic Injury Caused by COVID-19)
An increasing number of young and previously fit and healthy people who did not require hospitalisation continue to have symptoms months after mild cases of COVID-19. Rehabilitation clinics are already offering cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as an effective treatment for long COVID and post-COVID-19 fatigue syndrome based on the claims that it is effective for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)—the most common post-infectious syndrome—as no study into the efficacy of CBT for post-COVID-19 fatigue syndrome has been published. Re-analyses of these studies, however, showed that CBT did not lead to objective improvements in heterogeneous groups of ME/CFS patients, nor did it restore the ability to work. The group of patients with long COVID and post-COVID-19 fatigue syndrome, on the other hand, is homogeneous. We therefore analysed the Dutch Qure study, as it studied the efficacy of CBT in a homogeneous group of patients who developed Q-fever fatigue syndrome—which affects up to 30% of patients—after the largest reported outbreak of Q-fever, to see if CBT might potentially be an effective treatment for long-haulers after COVID-19 infection. Our reanalysis found that the Qure study suffered from many serious methodological problems, which included relying on one subjective primary outcome in a study without a control group for the non-blinded CBT treatment group, using a post hoc definition of improvement, waiting 2 years before publishing their objective actometer results and ignoring the null effect of said results. Moreover, only 10% of participants achieved a clinically meaningful subjective improvement in fatigue as a result of CBT according to the study’s own figures. Consequently, CBT has no subjective clinically meaningful effect in nine out of every ten patients that are treated with it. Additionally, the subjective improvement in fatigue was not matched by an improvement in disability, even though the disability was fatigue related according to the researchers. On top of this, CBT did not lead to an objective improvement in physical performance. Therefore, it cannot be said that CBT is an effective treatment for Q-fever fatigue syndrome either. It seems therefore unlikely that CBT will reduce disability or lead to objective improvement in long COVID or in post-COVID-19 fatigue syndrome. 


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