Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a severe, complex, acquired illness with numerous symptoms related mainly to the dysfunction of the brain, gastro-intestinal, immune, endocrine and cardiac systems. ME has been classified as a neurological disorder in the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases since 1969 (ICD 10 G93.3).
Although people often interchange ‘chronic fatigue’ and ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ most are probably unaware of the medical difference. The term Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) may convey the perception that sufferers are simply overtired, however fatigue is just one of a multitude of symptoms. The term Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is commonly used to describe the condition that most people with a CFS live with, and more appropriately reflects the World Health Organisation’s classification of CFS as a neurological condition. It is often written as ME/CFS. FM stands for Fibromyalgia, a similar but separate condition to ME/CFS.
ME is a complex illness involving profound dysregulation of the central nervous system and immune system, with dysfunction of cellular energy metabolism and cardiovascular abnormalities. The hallmark of ME is that increased physical or mental exertion results in worsening symptoms, normally with a delayed impact (i.e. it is felt later the same day or next day), and lasting for more than 24 hours. Recovery from such relapses may take days, weeks or even months. Some describe the condition as like having the flu and it never goes away.
The causes of ME are still not well understood and there is no specific diagnostic test for it. Although there is no known cure people do recover from it, often within a year of two. However many are not so fortunate and live with the illness for a long time, including for the rest of their life. Early diagnosis and good management often results in better outcomes, as there can be various levels of severity of this condition. Some people living with ME can go to work or can manage moderate levels of activity, while others are housebound or bedridden. Some people remain about the same, while some suffer relapses and others get worse. Death from ME is rare.
It can affect children as well as adults and factors such as affluence and psychological characteristics have no bearing on who may be afflicted.
The information above is based on the ME International Consensus Criteria, The South Australian GP Guidelines and the Victorian Better Health website.
Also see, “What is CFS?” by Dr Charles Lapp and Dr Bruce Campbell on their “Treat CFS FM” website.