What is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis?

The name ME stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis. ME is a disease that causes significant loss of physical and cognitive function. It has a relapsing course and symptoms fluctuate day to day and over time. It can be very severe and can relapse after even minor exertion. It can be found in people from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, but it tends to impact women more than men. It may be triggered by a number of things, including illness, trauma, stress, or intercurrent infection. ME has been reported worldwide in both epidemic and sporadic form since at least the 1930s. It has occurred in both urban and rural areas, and it occurs in hospitals and schools as well as in communities.

Many medical providers don’t recognize ME because they think it is a psychological disorder, and people with ME are often misdiagnosed or told they are not sick at all. A significant percentage of people with ME are housebound or bedbound, and some are even unable to feed themselves. It is estimated that at least one million Americans have ME. The cause of ME is unknown, but it has been linked to viral infections. It is a neurological disorder characterized by cognitive dysfunction and neuromuscular dysfunction. ME also has a distinctive pattern of relapses and remissions. During a relapse, symptoms can last for years or decades.

During an ME relapse, the brain is less active and the body does not have the energy to perform basic functions. During remission, the brain is more active and the body has more energy. People with ME can experience both relapses and remissions, but the relapses are longer than remissions and occur more frequently.

ME patients have a significant impairment in their daily functioning and scores significantly lower on quality of life surveys than the general population. Most adults with ME cannot work full-time and some children are unable to attend school. Many people with the most severe forms of ME are housebound and require around-the-clock care. People with ME are more disabled than those with conditions like multiple sclerosis, stroke, heart failure, and cancer.

In order to develop effective treatments, it is necessary to know which patients have ME. The CDC’s 1988 introduction of the ill-defined concept of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) unjustly pushed ME into the background. ME is a specific neuromuscular disease with distinct features. Its definition differs from the CFS definition in two important ways: muscle fatigability and post-exertional malaise.