Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is not defined by mere ‘fatigue’
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is not synonymous with being tired all the time. If a person is very fatigued for an extended period of time this does not mean they are having a ‘bout’ of M.E. To suggest such a thing is no less absurd than to say that prolonged fatigue means a person is having a ‘bout’ of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or Lupus. If a person is constantly fatigued this should not be taken to mean that they have M.E. no matter how severe or prolonged their fatigue is. Fatigue is a symptom of many different illnesses as well as a feature of normal everyday life – but it is not a defining symptom of M.E., nor even an essential symptom of M.E.
The terms ‘fatigue’ and ‘chronic fatigue’ were not associated with defining this illness at all until the new name (and definition) of ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ was created in 1988 in the USA (Hyde 2006, [online]). But M.E. and CFS are not synonymous terms.
‘Fatigue’ and feeling ‘tired all the time’ are not at all the same thing as the very specific type of paralytic muscle weakness or muscle fatigue which is characteristic of M.E. (and is caused by mitochondrial dysfunction) and which affects every organ and cell in the body; including the brain and the heart. This causes – or significantly contributes to – such problems in M.E. as; cardiac insufficiency (a type of heart failure), orthostatic intolerance (inability to maintain an upright posture), blackouts, reduced circulating blood volume (and pooling of the blood in the extremities), seizures (and other neurological phenomena), memory loss, problems chewing/swallowing, episodes of partial or total paralysis, muscle spasms/twitching, extreme pain, problems with digestion, vision disturbances, breathing difficulties, and so on. These problems are exacerbated by even trivial levels of physical and cognitive activity, sensory input and orthostatic stress beyond a patient’s individual limits. People with M.E. are made very ill and disabled by this problem with their cells; it affects virtually every bodily system and has also lead to death in some cases. Many patients are housebound and bedbound and often are so ill that they feel they are about to die. People with M.E would give anything to instead only be severely ‘fatigued’ or tired all the time (Bassett 2009, [Online]).
Fatigue or post-exertional fatigue (or malaise) may occur in many different illnesses such as various post-viral fatigue states or syndromes, Fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, and many others – but what is happening with M.E. patients is an entirely different (and unique) problem of a much greater magnitude. These terms are not accurate or specific enough to describe what is happening in M.E. M.E. is a neurological illness of extraordinarily incapacitating dimensions that affects virtually every bodily system – not a problem of ‘chronic fatigue’ (Hyde 2006, [Online]) (Hooper 2006, [Online]) (Hooper & Marshall 2005a, [Online]) (Hyde 2003, [Online]) (Dowsett 2001, [Online]) (Hooper et al. 2001, [Online]) (Dowsett 2000, [Online]) (Dowsett 1999a, 1999b, [Online]) (Dowsett 1996, p. 167) (Dowsett et al. 1990, pp. 285-291) (Dowsett n.d., [Online]).
- For more information see Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is not fatigue, or ‘CFS’. Many of the worlds leading M.E. experts have spoken out strongly against ‘fatigue’ being claimed to be the defining/essential symptom of M.E. see M.E. is not defined by ‘fatigue’ to read some of their comments.
- For more information on the symptoms of M.E., including the unique reaction people with M.E. have to activity (etc.), see: The ultra-comprehensive Myalgic Encephalomyelitis symptom list