ME/CFS – Causes and Symptoms

ME/CFS is a serious and debilitating illness that causes profoundly exhausting symptoms. Often, people who have ME/CFS experience comorbid diseases that include fibromyalgia (widespread muscle pain and unrefreshing sleep), postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS – an increase in heart rate upon standing) and gastroparesis or irritable bowel syndrome (bloating and constipation). These illnesses can be just as incapacitating and disabling as ME/CFS.

Until now, the cause of ME/CFS has been unknown. However, new research reveals that the disorder has many biological and metabolic features. These findings, along with clinical and biomedical evidence, support the theory that ME/CFS is a complex, overlapping chronic illness rather than a psychologically based disorder.

Although fatigue is a symptom of ME/CFS, it has less to do with being tired from lack of sleep than it does with having an infection that makes your body work overtime to fight off an illness. Many people with ME/CFS also report that they have trouble thinking clearly, memory problems, sore throats, and tender lymph nodes in the neck and armpits. They may also be sensitive to light, sound, smells and food.

Some people with ME/CFS develop the disorder after a viral or bacterial infection. Several viruses, including glandular fever and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), have been found in ME/CFS patients, as have herpes simplex and herpes B viruses, enteroviruses, Ross River virus, and COVID-19.

ME/CFS can be triggered by stress, but it is not caused by depression or other mental health disorders. It is not a psychiatric disorder, nor can it be cured with cognitive behavior therapy or graded exercise therapy (GET), which were recommended to treat the condition in the past but have been shown to be harmful for people with ME/CFS.

Talking to a counselor can help. Counselors can help you develop coping strategies to manage your ME/CFS, address limitations at work or school and improve family relationships. Support groups are also helpful. But not all support groups are right for everyone, so it is important to experiment and find one that works for you.

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