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All about ME

October 2011 


MEME is not one of the most publicised health problems and unless you come into contact with a sufferer, it is very unlikely you know much about it.

However, it is estimated that around 250,000 people in Britain are affected by this illness so it is good to have some understanding of what it is about.

The name ME comes from the term Myalgic Encephalopathy and is not an easy illness to understand because its symptoms vary enormously from person to person and in some cases the symptoms can be very vague indeed. Basically ME is a condition affecting the immune system and central nervous system and while it usually starts between the ages of 20 and 40, it can affect anyone of any age.

The symptoms can be severe, including debilitating fatigue, painful muscles and joints, disordered sleep, gastric disturbances, poor memory and concentration. People sometimes describe it has having severe “flu-like” lethargy. Dyslexia, nausea, clumsiness and disturbed balance, even sensitivity to light have all been reported.

To make it even more difficult, the disease fluctuates and there can be periods when a person feels normal followed by a period where he or she is severely affected.

With so many possibly symptoms ME can be very hard to diagnose. Clinical signs are not usually found during a routine medical examination but recent research shows there are abnormalities involving the central nervous system, muscle pathology and the immune system which can be identified. Some research studies have reported on abnormalities in certain hormones such as cortisol and prolactin, but the results are not conclusive.

So, what with vague systems and difficult diagnoses, it is no wonder that ME is hard to understand. Even its causes are unclear. Generally it is thought its onset could be linked to an acute infection, although some evidence implicates some common viruses. However, some people have experienced a slow onset of the disease that is hard to link to any single event.

No wonder ME attracts considerably controversy. For many years there has been debate as to whether it was actually an illness at all. Many thought that ME, together with its sister problem CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) was simply a case of pulling oneself together.

However, today leading bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the Department of Health and the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Psychiatrists and General Practitioners, agree that it is a real illness.

At the moment there is no defined cure or even effective treatment. Rest and managing one’s activities within the limitations of the illness are the main recommendations and it is important for sufferers to understand that people who have suffered from ME, even for long periods of time, have been known to suddenly start to show real signs of improvement, often for no apparent reason.

Treatment is generally aimed at reducing symptoms and because of the nature of the disease this can cover a wide area, from drugs and homoeopathy to behavioural therapies, acupuncture and even dietary change.

The good news is that research is now been taken very seriously and more information is coming to light all the time.

For more information, the ME Association provides a wealth of background to the disease plus information on research (it has its own research arm, the Ramsay Research Fund) and on treatments.
Visit or call their helpline on 0844 576 5326 any weekday between 10am and 12 noon; 2pm and 4pm and between 7pm and 9pm in the evenings. You can email them on

There is also an active ME Support group with lots of information and support ideas. Visit them on or you can email them directly at


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