ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) is a complex and debilitating illness that affects the brain and muscles, immune system, digestive system, and cardiovascular systems. People with ME often experience severe symptoms that keep them housebound or bedbound for long periods of time. ME is classified as a neurological disease by the World Health Organization, and it affects men, women, and children of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Symptoms and severity vary between patients.
In addition to a wide range of other symptoms, those with ME often also experience post-exertional malaise (PEM) and unrefreshing sleep. PEM can come on after light or moderate activity, resulting in fatigue that worsens over hours or days after activity. In severe cases, PEM may be triggered by activities as simple as brushing your teeth or reading a book.
Medications and treatment for ME can reduce the severity of PEM and other symptoms, but they cannot cure ME. Instead, treatments aim to reduce symptom severity and improve the patient’s ability to function.
The main goal of ME treatment is to provide relief from symptoms and decrease the number of days that patients are hospitalised or housebound. This requires a variety of therapies and strategies, including pacing, exercise, rest, and stress management.
Diagnosis is critical for accurate treatment. Doctors use diagnostic criteria to identify ME/CFS and exclude other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
A diagnosis is made based on a thorough history and physical examination, along with screening tests or diagnostic tests. This is a sensitive process because symptoms can be attributed to many other diseases, as well as to normal aging.
Some doctors may be reluctant to make a diagnosis of ME/CFS until they have ruled out other diagnoses, especially those that are commonly confused with ME/CFS: depression and anxiety disorders; chronic pain or other autoimmune illnesses; and psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
This is a good approach because it can help patients with ME/CFS avoid unnecessary visits to the hospital, and it helps providers make more informed decisions about their patients’ treatment. It also helps ensure that patients do not receive treatments that can worsen their condition or increase their risk of complications.
During a visit to the clinic, doctors will take a comprehensive medical history and perform an in-depth physical examination, and may also order laboratory tests. If ME/CFS is diagnosed, the treatment plan will then be tailored to each individual’s needs and goals.
ME/CFS is a lifelong condition and a full recovery from the symptoms that cause the disease is very rare. The best way to improve symptoms is to manage them, which means avoiding excessive activity and getting plenty of rest and sleep.
The symptoms of ME/CFS can vary from person to person and from season to season. For example, some people experience a sudden onset of their symptoms and others develop it gradually over months or years.
In general, ME/CFS is more common in women than in men and is more prevalent in younger adults. In Australia, it is estimated that about 0.4-1% of the population has ME/CFS, with up to 250,000 Australians living with it.