What is M.E.?
M.E. (myalgic encephalomyelitis) is a potentially chronic and disabling neurological disorder, which causes profound exhaustion, muscle pain and cognitive problems such as memory loss and concentration. Other symptoms that are common include sensitivity to light, noise and smell, disturbed sleep patterns and persistent headaches.
The first recognised outbreak of M.E. (which is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) in Britain occurred at the London Royal Free Hospital in 1955, when almost 300 members of the hospital’s staff developed many of the symptoms now associated with the illness. Dr Melvin Ramsey, who worked at the hospital at the time of the outbreak later write in his book Postviral Fatigue Syndrome; the Saga of Royal Free Disease:
‘The main symptom of M.E. is a severe fatigue and malaise following exercise, with weakness and pain in the muscles after use, and frequently muscle twitching.’
In the more recent past there were misconceptions that only certain social classes were affected and many people regarded the illness as a relatively mild condition – some even doubted its very existence. In fact, around 20% of sufferers are so severely affected that they are either house or bed-bound and have enormous difficulty performing even basic personal tasks unaided.
For most people, however, the illness is less severe. The vast majority of people find that their symptoms fluctuate from day to day.
What causes M.E?
It is estimated that around two-thirds of all cases are preceded by a viral infection of some kind.
It is also common for many patients to report periods of stress during or before the viral infection took hold. However, there are a great many sufferers who are not able to give a precise moment when the illness took hold and recall feeling increasingly worse over a prolonged period of time.
It is understandable that, in the absence of one, simple explanation, there has been much debate about the actual nature of M.E.
In her book M.E. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Practical Guide, Dr Anne Macintyre summarises the present body of knowledge about causes into three separate areas:
altered immune response, due possibly to infections such as glandular fever or hepatitis
neurotoxins (such as organophosphates)
exhaustion and mental stress (athletic over training, work stress)
viral infection, maybe severe, maybe trivial
a traumatic event
persistent viral infection
chronic bacterial infection
repeated over-activity, lack of rest
inappropriate rest and too little activity, which can lead to physical de-conditioning, isolation and depression
secondary psychological disturbance
exposure to chemicals, environmental pollution
Information taken from Action for ME.
What should I do if I think I have ME?
- Join the Colchester MESH Group and Action for ME.
- Keep a diary of your activities and symptoms that follow. This could be useful for your GP.
- Get a diagnosis, and/or ask your GP for a referral to a specialist. Without a diagnosis, getting paid time off work, time off school, qualifying for state benefits, even winning the support of your family and friends, may be difficult.
- Ask your GP if he would like an ‘Information for Doctors’ sheet.
- Rest in the initial acute stage and during relapses or periods of exhaustion
- Pace yourself when you are feeling better – don’t push yourself to do more than your body lets you.
- Consider multivitamins as your GP advises.
- Consult your GP about any complimentary therepies you may be considering.
- Apply for state benefits