What Is CFS/ME?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E) are similar types of condition, whose main feature is excessive fatigue.
CFS/ME affects people in many ways and no two people experience the illness in the same way. The main feature of the condition is persistent and unrelenting physical or mental fatigue, which differs from the normal type of fatigue that most people are familiar with. It is not adequately relieved by even long periods of rest or sleep and is usually out of proportion to the sufferers degree of physical activity.
All types of people and all ages are affected. Severe and debilitating fatigue, painful muscles and joints, disordered sleep, gastric disturbances, poor memory, and concentration are commonplace. In many cases, the onset is linked to a viral infection. Sufferers can become ill quite suddenly, although some people can experience a slow and gradual onset of the condition. It can be triggered by an infection or series of infections, surgery, another illness, an accident, or any other physical or emotional stress. These symptoms are to such a degree that they can limit a person’s ability to carry out very ordinary daily activities.
What are the Effects?
In some people, the effects of CFS/ME may be minimal but for some, lives can be transformed drastically: in a young sufferer, schooling and higher education can be severely disrupted; within the working population, employment can become an incredible struggle for some. For many sufferers, social life and family life can become restricted and in some cases severely strained. People have become housebound or confined to bed for months or even years at a time.
Who is affected?
It’s currently estimated around 250,000 people in the UK have CFS/ME. Anyone can get the condition although it’s two to four times as common in women as men. CFS/ME strikes people from every age, racial, ethnic, and socio-economic group. It usually develops when people are in their early 20s to mid-40s. Children can also be affected, usually between the ages of 13 and 15.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms of CFS/ME include post-exertional malaise (PEM), unrefreshing sleep, concentration problems and muscle pain, typically lasting at least six months.
A range of other symptoms are common amongst sufferers. These include muscle and/or joint pain, headaches, swollen glands and recurring infections-often sore throats. Some people have feelings of dizziness and temperature fluctuations. There are often some difficulties with memory and concentration and many people experience problems with their sleep.
How it affects the quality of life?
Most cases of CFS/ME are mild to moderate, but up to one in four people with CFS/ME have severe symptoms. These are defined as follows:
Mild – you’re able to care for yourself, but may need days off work to rest
Moderate – you may have reduced mobility, and your symptoms can vary; you may also have disturbed sleep patterns and need to sleep in the afternoon
Severe – you’re able to carry out minimal daily tasks, such as brushing your teeth, but have much-reduced mobility, and may also have difficulty concentrating.
What are the causes?
Currently, there are no specific diagnostic tests for CFS/ME. However, there is a clear protocol used to confirm the diagnosis. It’s not yet known exactly what causes CFS/ME although various theories have been suggested.
How is CFS/ME treated?
Since no cause or cure for CFS/ME has been specifically identified, treatment is directed primarily at relieving symptoms. There are many treatments that can improve symptoms, increase function, and allow people with CFS/ME to engage in activities of daily living. Sleep problems, pain, heart rate irregularities, gastrointestinal difficulties, allergies, and depression are some of the symptoms that can be relieved and treated. Mental and physical activity pacing (limiting type and duration and including rest periods throughout), avoiding stressors, and using supplements or medications to gain some control of the symptoms are the only treatments available at this time.
Alternative therapies are often explored and encouraged in trying to relieve symptoms. Acupuncture, hydrotherapy, yoga, tai chi, and massage therapy have been found to help and are often prescribed for symptom management.
How is it diagnosed?
There are specific guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) about the diagnosis and management of CFS/ME.
NICE says a diagnosis of CFS/ME should be considered if you meet specific criteria regarding your fatigue – for example, it can’t be explained by other conditions and if you also have other symptoms, such as sleeping problems or problems thinking and concentrating.
The diagnosis can then be confirmed if these symptoms are experienced for several months.