Everyone has heard of ME/CFS – Multiple Sclerosis – but many still don’t understand what it is or what causes it. ME is an auto-immune disease that affects the central nervous system and results in a wide variety of symptoms such as extreme fatigue, fever, aches and pains, blurred vision, emotional disturbances, and pain. While the symptoms are widely varied, ME/CFS often manifests with a set of highly similar signs and symptoms. What makes the condition so difficult to pin down is that it is actually quite common. Of course everyone can have ME/CFS; the diagnosis is made on the basis of medical histories and symptoms reported by patients.
The first step in the treatment of this illness is to rule out other diseases that may have similar signs and symptoms. In many cases patients will experience sudden fever, lethargy, headaches, muscle and joint pain, loss of appetite, depression, and mental confusion. While these signs can be alarming, they are often caused by viral illnesses or stress. Therefore doctors will usually look for other potential illnesses that might have caused the onset of the ME/CFS symptoms. For example, a viral illness such as a viral infection (such as a cold or the flu), a reaction to medication, or the side effects of a prescription drug can all be causes of fatigue.
Once a cause for the symptoms is found, a treatment plan can be devised to attack the problem. The first phase of treatment is usually rest periods and light exercise. These are meant to promote shortness of breath and to alleviate the physical symptoms. While this can sometimes help, in a large number of patients it makes the symptoms worse. Also, there is usually only a small amount of relief from severe fatigue.
When someone has ME/CFS they may also experience a set of symptoms which are not related to their ME /CFS; hence the ‘following symptoms’. These include general malaise, which is a general feeling of tiredness and exhaustion following exercise. This can occur in any part of the body, but it is more common in the legs. The second main symptom is excessive tiredness, which is often experienced in the mornings following exercise when the muscles need to repair themselves for the next day.
The third main symptom is pain, which can be acute or chronic, diffuse, or mixed. A patient can have acute pain that can be treated with prescription pain medication, or they can have a chronic pain which is not easily treated with medication. In a small proportion of patients, ME /CFS also includes intolerance to light and sound, known as orthostatic intolerance. This symptom can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life and can progress to complete paralysis if left untreated.
As you can see, ME /CFS is not a simple condition. It is complex and can have many different symptoms which can be linked back to different underlying conditions. However, by using ME /CFS treatments, these illnesses can be made more manageable, improving the quality of life for those with ME, reducing the impact on their family, and helping people to understand why they are unable to return to full activity.