Is it ME or am I just tired?

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) affects over 250,000 in the UK and usually develops in people in their early 20s to mid-40s often with a devastating effect on daily life.

Unfortunately, CFS can be tricky to diagnose as there are no specific tests for the illness and MRI scans, brain and blood tests, including thyroid function tests, are often carried out with negative results.  To make a diagnosis of CFS, the symptoms need to have continued for at least four months and all other physical and psychological causes need to be ruled out, including depressive illness, as both conditions can coexist or mimic each other.

The symptoms for this condition vary but usually include profound fatigue after exercise, muscle pain and frequent headaches.  Other symptoms can be disturbed sleep patterns, inability to control temperature, irritable bowel syndrome and memory disturbances.  The most difficult part of this condition for both patients and clinicians is that the cause of it is unknown, although it is thought to be associated with a viral infection or considerable stress in a person’s life.

Sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are often very hard working, driven perfectionists, who push themselves beyond normal limits to consistently produce excellent results in any activity they undertake.  People of both sexes can be affected, although more women than men tend to suffer, and the condition usually lasts four to five years.

Treatment should always be of a holistic nature looking at what the person does and how they think as well as looking at any medication required.  The four forms of treatment that have been found to be especially useful are:

  1. Pacing – The sufferer is encouraged to do more and achieve more on a good day, and on a bad day are actively encouraged to rest.
  2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – A talking therapy which is designed to examine and change the person’s attitude towards their illness and encourage a more positive approach to it.
  3. Medication – For some people the use of anti-depressants or other medical treatments can alleviate certain symptoms of the illness which help them manage some of the other symptoms.  For example, medication to improve sleep patterns, anxiety and depression or bowel symptoms can be used.
  4. Graded Exercise and Activity Programmes (GET) Therapy which encourages the person to start exercising at low levels and gradually increasing both the quantity and intensity of the exercise.  This and any other treatment plan should always be supported by a trained therapist to ensure each individual operates at the right level of activity for them.

The outcome for people with CFS is varied with most improving over time and many recovering enough to be able to resume a normal working and activity pattern.  However, some people’s symptoms do not improve and management becomes the key driver of their treatment plan.

Dr Adrian Winbow has been treating patients suffering from CFS for over 30 years. If you would like help with coping with some of the effects of CFS, please get in touch with Private Psychiatry to make an appointment.



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