Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, AKA Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

by Nicole Murray, L.Ac.

You know that feeling when you’re getting sick with the flu? Remember feeling exhausted, achy, chilled and feverish, and being unable to concentrate? And how you just sleep and sleep but still feel severely tired when you wake up?

For people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (more accurately called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or ME), this is a fair description of their daily life for months, years, or even decades. People with ME suffer debilitating, severe tiredness that is not relieved by rest, for a minimum of six months.

The 2012 ICC Physician’s Primer calls ME a “severe, complex neurological disease that affects all body systems. ME is more debilitating than most diseases.” Researchers are looking at a variety of causes. One theory is that viral infection is responsible-symptoms often occur after a flu-type infection. Another is that there is inflammation in the nervous system, due to a faulty immune system response.

Signs and symptoms include:
* Severe fatigue that comes on suddenly, especially after the flu
* Low grade fever and chills
* Sore throat and swollen lymph glands in the neck or armpits
* Muscle and joint aches, without any swelling
* Muscle Weakness
* Irritability
* Headaches
* Sleep that doesn’t feel refreshing
* Not being able to concentrate or remember
* Mood changes

Diagnosis is made by:
* Absence of other causes of chronic fatigue (such as drug dependence, infections, endocrine diseases, problems in a major organ, or psychiatric illnesses)
* At least four ME-specific symptoms
* Extreme, long-term fatigue

Several factors can increase risk of ME. Stress plays a role, as is the case with most chronic diseases. Age is relevant, as ME most commonly affects people in their 40s and 50s. Also, women are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome much more often than men.

There is no cure for ME. Treatment is directed toward relieving symptoms. Acupuncture can be very helpful. Other treatments include:
* Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
* Healthy diet
* Sleep management techniques
* Medicines to reduce pain, discomfort, and fever
* Medicines to treat anxiety (anti-anxiety drugs)
* Medicines to treat depression (antidepressant drugs)

Common medical advise includes avoiding doing too much on days when you feel tired and exercising (not too strenuously).

Acupuncture often helps people significantly improve their quality of life by increasing energy, aiding sleep, and reducing pain. We usually recommend that people have treatments a few times a week until their symptoms are markedly improved, then weekly for at least 3-6 months.

References and Resources:

University of Maryland Medical Center

Scientific American: Baffling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Set for Diagnostic Overhaul

Centers for Disease Control

Medline Plus

Mayo Clinic

The National Alliance for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

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