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The signs and symptoms of ME that you need to know

It’s a long-term illness that effects millions worldwide, but up until now, researchers have been divided about what causes some people to develop Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

Theories have ranged from hormonal imbalances to psychological stress, but now scientists from King’s College London have suggested that an overactive immune system may be the reason.

In a  study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, scientists looked at 55 patients with Hepatitis C who were given a drug that causes a  response similar to a virus. Some 18 of them, who had an overactive immune system, went on to develop ME-like symptoms.

The study is thought to be an important breakthrough for people with ME, as it challenges the stigma that chronic fatigue is ‘all in the mind’, although scientists have concluded that more research needs to be done.

Also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), ME is a debilitating illness that can make everyday life extremely difficult.

Extreme tiredness and other physical symptoms can make it hard to carry out a normal day-to-day routine, and it can also affect a person’s mental and emotional health.

Here are some of the key signs and symptoms that everyone should know about:

1. Severe fatigue that’s not improved by rest

The symptoms of ME will vary from person to person, but the most common sign is fatigue severe enough to interfere with your daily activities.

For doctors to diagnose ME, fatigue must last for several months and must not be curable with bed rest, or be explained by another underlying illness.

2. Post-exertional malaise (PEM)

Experts stress that ME is a serious long-term illness, not a psychological disorder, and that standard forms of exercise do not help in the way that they might for mental health issues. Most people with ME find that intense exercise makes their symptoms worse.

Often, a GP will prescribe graded exercise therapy (GET) as a treatment –  a structured exercise programme that aims to gradually increase how long you can carry out a physical activity.

3. Muscle or joint pain

Aches and pains are another common symptom of ME/CFS. There’s no specific medication for treating the illness, but some medications can be used to relieve some of the symptoms.

For instance, over-the-counter painkillers can help ease pain in the muscles or joints. Your GP may also prescribe something stronger, if necessary.

4. Flu-like symptoms

These may include a sore throat, swollen lymph glands, or low-grade fever.

5. Sleep problems

Sleep disturbances are one of the most common complaints from those with ME/CFS. Certain symptoms, such as chronic pain, may lead directly to difficulty falling asleep, while other people may periodically wake in the night or have vivid dreams.

As many of these symptoms may be produced by other illnesses, it’s important to speak to your GP who can help you to get to the bottom of the issue.

Living with CFS/ME can be difficult, as extreme tiredness can take its toll on  everyday life.

As well as asking family and friends for support, many find it useful to talk to others with the condition. The charity ME Association provides support and practical advice for people affected, as well as information for local support groups.

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