What is ME/CFS?

ME is a potentially severe and disabling illness which is classified by the World Health Organisation as a neurological disorder (ref lCD 10, G93, 3). It is also known as post viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) – the latter being an umbrella term which covers various different types of unexplained chronic fatigue.

Is it a new disease?

No. Reports in the medical literature date back to 1750. The term ME was first used in 1956, when an editorial in The Lancet introduced the name to describe an outbreak of the illness which had occurred at the Royal Free Hospital in London

How many people are affected?

It is estimated that approximately 150,000 people in the UK currently have ME/CFS. A recent survey involving children indicated that it is now the most common cause of long-term sickness absence from school (ref: Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,
1997, 3, 29-42).

Who gets ME/CFS?

The onset frequently occurs between the ages of 20 and 40. Females slightly outnumber males. However, this illness can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex or social status.

What are the symptoms?

The key symptoms are a disabling exercise-induced muscle fatigue, an ongoing ‘flu-like’ malaise and various neurological problems (eg clumsiness, problems with memory, concentration and balance). Other symptoms include muscle pain, non-refreshing sleep pattern, sore throats and enlarged glands, joint pains and alcohol intolerance. Around a quarter will develop a depressive component.

What is known about the cause?

Many cases are precipitated by an acute infection. A small number follow vaccination or exposure to chemical toxins (including organophosphates pesticides).

A number of factors may be involved in perpetuating the illness. Researchers are currently looking at the role of persisting infection, immunological disturbances, changes in muscle energy production and brain abnormalities (eg changes in hormones, chemical transmitters and blood flow). Psychological and social factors may also play a role in maintaining ill health and disability in some cases. Further information on research studies – published and those in progress – are available from the ME Association.

What is the prognosis/outlook ?

Outcome in any particular case is difficult to predict. Some people improve slowly and recover, although this may take several years and will be punctuated by periods of relapse. The majority will follow a much more variable pattern, with fluctuating levels of disability, a significant minority remain severely disabled, making little or no progress. A small number steadily deteriorate, becoming chair or bed-bound for much of the time.

Is there any treatment?

Drugs aimed at relieving the various symptoms may help some patients, but not others. These include low doses of antidepressants (for sleep disturbances and muscle pain), evening primrose oil and various immunological treatments. People who make the most significant degree of recovery appear to be those who are diagnosed early on, take adequate rest during the acute stage of the illness and then manage to carefully pace their physical and mental activities. For further information on pacing Click Here

How much does ME/CFS cost the country?

The cost is incalculable. There is the cost in lost skills and productivity. There is the cost of benefits, medical consultations, tests and treatments. Most of all, there is the human cost of shattered lives, lost careers, lost independence, both financial and personal, and the corrosive effect on relationships of disbelief in an illness which is neither understood nor fully accepted by many doctors.

Information Courtesy of ME Association:

4 Corringham Road
Stanford-le-Hope, Essex
SS17 0AH

Tel: 01375642466 (lOam-12.3Opm, 1.30-4pm)
Fax: 01375 360256
Email: enquires@meassociation.org.uk

Information Line: 01375 361013 1.30- 4pm Monday to Friday

Listening Ear Service: Ring 01375 361013 after 4 p.m. and at weekends for details of Listeners on duty.

For Further information visit the website:
www.meassociation.org.uk

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