Myalgic encephalomyelitis Myalgic encephalomyelitis

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Clinical Professor David Isaacs
Head, Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases
The Children’s Hospital at Westmead
NSW Australia

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DET websites

Resources

  • Bell D. The Doctor’s Guide to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1994.

  • Dwyer J. The Body at War. Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1993.

  • Finch J. Energy in the Red – Living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Lane Cove: McPherson’s Printing Group, 1995. (Available from J. Finch, PO Box 868, Leichhardt NSW 2040.)

What is myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)?

This condition, sometimes referred to as post-viral fatigue syndrome, is believed to be a disease of the immune and central nervous systems. It is a chronic disease which can result in major disruption to education and social, physical, and emotional development for many months or years.

Despite extensive research worldwide, the causes of ME/CFS are still unknown. ME/CFS usually follows an illness like glandular fever, presumed to be viral. Sometimes the initial illness proves to be true glandular fever, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, or more rarely Q fever, both of which are diagnosed by blood tests. However, ME/CFS may follow other viral infections, and often the virus responsible cannot be identified. Onset of the syndrome may be sudden or gradual.

Diagnosis of ME/CFS is made by excluding the possibility of other illnesses (eg multiple sclerosis). There is no diagnostic test for ME/CFS at this time.

There are no clear defining features of this condition. Students with ME/CFS often experience physical and mental exhaustion which can be totally incapacitating. The student may become exhausted by even moderate activity and may need to sleep at any time.

Students with ME/CFS may experience a wide range of other symptoms which vary in severity:

  • extreme weakness

  • muscle aches

  • headaches

  • dizziness

  • impaired attention, concentration and memory

  • swollen and tender glands

  • fevers

  • urinary and gastrointestinal problems

  • sensitivity to extremes of temperature, light and sound, and to strong smells.

ME/CFS can affect a student’s wellbeing, self-image and social development. Many students experience social isolation and exclusion from peer contact because of their illness. Counselling may be of benefit.

Fortunately, the prognosis for ME/CFS is much better for children than for adults. Most children recover completely although this may take a year or two.

Relapses are a feature of the recovery process and may be triggered if students exceed their limits of physical or mental exertion.