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It’s estimated that a quarter of a million people in the UK suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome(CFS) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) yet many people know very little about it.
What is ME?
ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) is also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). People who suffer from ME or CFS regularly experience debilitating fatigue, particularly after mental or physical exertion.
Who does it affect?
An estimated 250,000 people in the UK are affected by chronic fatigue syndrome, and it’s more common in women than men, though anybody can be affected.
In adults, ME normally develops between a person’s 20s and 40s. Some children can also suffer from it, most commonly between the ages of 13 and 15.1
Symptoms and diagnosis
CFS has a broad variety of symptoms, including:
- Difficulty sleeping, disturbed sleep, or not feeling refreshed after sleep
- Aches and pains in muscles and joints, without visible inflammation
- Sore throat, or lymph nodes that are painful but not enlarged
- Cognitive impairment: this could include difficulty concentrating or thinking, short-term memory loss, trouble with finding words, processing information or organising/planning
- General malaise, tiredness or ‘flu-like’ symptoms
- Heart palpitations, but without any diagnosed cardiac problems
- Dizziness or nausea
- A worsening of any of these symptoms as a result of physical and/or mental exertion
Because there is no clinical test for CFS, healthcare professionals are advised to consider that someone may have CFS if they have one or more of the above symptoms, as well as fatigue with the all of the following features:
- It is recurrent and/or persistent
- It is not lifelong, but is recent or has a specific onset
- It has significantly reduced one's activity
- It is brought on after mental or physical exertion - usually with a delay of at least 24 hours - with a gradual recovery over several days
Diagnosing CFS is usually a process of elimination. Because all of these symptoms can have several other causes than CFS, diagnosing them involves ruling out other possible conditions first.
If there's no test for CFS, how would I know if I had it?
One of the reasons diagnosis of CFS can take longer is because doctors have to do so by eliminating other possible causes of the symptoms, which can take time. Blood results can reveal a variety of things, so testing for things like a low haemoglobin level, or a higher white blood cell count, would most likely indicate something other than ME.
Because diagnosis isn't straightforward, many patients don't receive one quickly enough - it can sometimes take years. Failure to diagnose CFS can cause additional problems for people suffering from it, since it can make it difficult to work, study, socialise or care for a family. Without the right support, the condition itself can get worse because stress is known to exacerbate it.3
How serious can it be?
There are various degrees to which people are affected, usually defined in three categories:
- Mild: people in this category are usually able to work or study, but may need to use their weekends just to recover from doing so. They may also reduce or stop other social or leisure activities for the same reason.
- Moderate: people in this group tend not to be able to work, have reduced mobility in their daily lives, and may need to rest or sleep in the afternoon, with their sleep at night often being disturbed.
- Severe: people with this level of the condition are often only able to do very basic things for themselves (such as washing or brushing their teeth), if at all. They are usually very sensitive to light and noise, and are often house-bound.4
If I do have CFS, what can I do?
Currently there is no outright cure for CFS. There are however, various options patients can discuss with their GPs for managing the condition. For specific symptoms - such as disturbed sleep, pain and headaches - there are medicines available.
As for dealing with fatigue, this will vary from person to person, but many people manage their activity and pace themselves in order to cope better on a day-to-day basis. There are a variety of approaches and coping strategies.
The ME Association is running a variety of events for ME awareness week (8-17 May 2017), with the aim of greater public understanding for those suffering from the condition.
Only a qualified doctor can properly diagnose ME/CFS, so if you think you have some of the symptoms, book an appointment with your GP. At BMI Healthcare we have specialists in neurology who can help give you the diagnosis you need.
To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337 or
make an online enquiry.