ME has for a long time been under-researched, but as awareness of the condition grows, more people are coming forward for help.
As a grouping of symptoms, instead of a clearly identifiable illness, ME is very hard to diagnose and thus people can suffer for years before getting help for it. Symptoms can include exhaustion, digestive issues, muscle weakness, shortness of breath and irregular heart rate.
But how do you know if you are suffering with ME, or are just really exhausted?
Covid has made ME more prevalent, but people still find it so difficult to know what may just be tiredness.
“It is really difficult to tell the difference. ME and CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) have a lot of overlap [with tiredness] and there have been a lot of issues with long covid with these long persisting post-viral malaise, where even if people sleep well, they may still feel exhausted,” says GP and men’s health specialist Dr Anand Patel.
If you have had covid or another viral illness, this may increase the likelihood of having ME.
Get checked out
“If you have had persisting symptoms for more than a few weeks or they are really severe, speak to your GP,” says Patel.
Particularly if “you are sleeping okay, your diet, caffeine and alcohol intake are okay, but your symptoms are persisting. They may check your thyroid and blood count”, he explains.
“A quarter of our appointments these days are classed as ‘tired all the time’. It is very difficult to weed out what is what when ME and CFS are groups of symptoms that are bundled together. It is not necessarily something that will cause medical harm, but will cause really significant symptoms to sufferers,” says Patel.
“With ME, you may be so tired you can barely stay awake in the day. We are still in the exploratory stage of what does cause it, but if you have had psychological trauma or illness it is more likely to be ME that has caused these prolonged symptoms. It can be hard to find things during tests and scans, but of course, there are conditions we don’t have tests for or are hard to identify,” he explains.
Be clear of your symptoms
“It is really difficult to diagnose something if you can’t find it, so a patient needs to explain symptoms and how they are feeling. Many people with it don’t feel seen, and a doctor may be struggling to find a specific answer,” Patel explains.
Keeping a diary of symptoms may help to make it clear.
Consider what the other causes may be.
“Tiredness could be caused by blood count and anaemia, thyroid function and deficiencies, dietary changes and vitamin deficiencies,” says Patel.
“If you have a varied diet, these are unlikely. B12 and folic acid deficiency are common, they make blood make new cells and are important in nerve function. Also, it could be vitamin D deficiency, a lot of people need to take a vitamin D tablet every day in the UK because we don’t get enough sun and slap on factor 50 as soon as it does come out,” Patel says.