If you have ME/CFS, it’s important to tell prospective employers how the illness can impact your work. You may need to explain that you aren’t fully able to carry out certain tasks, or you might be prone to some physical symptoms, like pain and difficulty regulating body temperature. You can get help with this from Action for ME and ALISS, which both have a network of local groups providing peer support, information and advice.
ME (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis) is an illness that can be very difficult to diagnose and manage. It is a chronic, debilitating condition with a wide range of physical and mental health impacts. The most common symptom is overwhelming fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest. This differs from the kind of tiredness most people experience after a bad night’s sleep, or following an infection such as the flu or mononucleosis.
The cause of ME/CFS isn’t understood, but it appears that certain infections can trigger the illness. These include glandular fever and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), herpes viruses such as herpes simplex, VZV (causes chickenpox or shingles) and HHV-6 and CMV, and enteroviruses including Ross River virus in Australia.
Some research suggests that the illness is triggered by inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. However, it’s also been suggested that a range of other issues might be involved, such as genetic factors and immune system function.
There is no laboratory test for ME/CFS, but researchers have found consistent biological abnormalities in patients. Many specialist physicians use these findings to assist in making a diagnosis, which is made by ruling out other conditions and using one of several sets of diagnostic criteria.
People who have ME/CFS often struggle to access healthcare, and are often misdiagnosed or dismissed by GPs. Specialist ME/CFS teams can be helpful for confirming the diagnosis and developing a care and support plan for the individual. They should consist of medically trained specialists from the fields of rheumatology, rehabilitation medicine, endocrinology, infectious diseases, neurology and immunology, as well as a range of other healthcare professionals, such as clinical or counselling psychologists, exercise physiologists, dietitians and occupational therapists.
There is no cure for ME/CFS, but there are a number of treatments that can help with some symptoms. These include exercise therapy, dietary and nutritional interventions, and cognitive behavioural therapies. In severe cases, some people might benefit from immunosuppressive and antidepressant medications. Other interventions can be used to aid recovery from ME/CFS, such as pacing and energy conservation strategies. It is important to try out different approaches and find what works for you. You can learn more about the various treatment options by visiting a ME/CFS clinic or contacting your GP for further advice.