What is ME?

ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

ME is a chronic illness that affects many body systems and their functions. The changes seem particularly to affect the nervous and immune system, but they also affect other parts of the body. The illness can cause profound exhaustion, muscle pain, problems with mental function, such as memory loss and poor concentration, malaise and other symptoms. Many people know the condition as ME but the formal term used currently by the medical profession is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Who does it affect?

ME can affect men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds. It is estimated that there are over 250,000 people in the UK with ME: nearly two thirds of them are women. A recent study in the USA showed that about 1 in 250 people in the community have symptoms of CFS. Most people develop the illness between their early twenties and mid-forties. However ME does affect children and young people, generally those between the ages of 13 and 15 but sometimes children as young as five.

The cause of ME is not yet fully understood. Abnormalities have been found in the immune system and nervous system, including the functioning of the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that regulates basic functions like appetite, sleep and temperature control). More research is needed to understand the exact role of disruptions in these and other systems.

What treatments exist?

There is no treatment that can cure ME. The limited understanding of the mechanisms underlying the illness adds to the problems of finding more effective and focused treatments.

Energy or activity management

Managing energy is about finding the right balance between activity and rest.

  • Rest
  • Pacing/Setting activity levels
  • A sleep routine
  • Graded activity/exercise
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Counselling
  • Controlling symptoms
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Complementary and alternative medicine