01 May 2007
MEN who fear they have M.E. were today urged to visit their doctors, as it was revealed that thousands are putting their long-term health at risk through delayed diagnosis.
Early identification of the illness, which affects an estimated 80,000 men in Britain, is critical in aiding a quicker recovery and can prevent the condition from becoming severe. But a report released today by the UK’s leading M.E. charity, Action for M.E., shows that for 62% of men it takes over a year to discover what is wrong with them, and for 25% it takes more than two and a half years. Overall, figures suggest that 16,000 men in Britain are currently undiagnosed and unsupported.*
Part of the problem appears to be men’s reluctance to visit the doctor. Of those questioned by the charity, almost half said it took them over a month to initially seek help. 15% took over six months. Some doctors’ perceptions of the illness as a women’s disease may also play a role.
M.E. is a painful and debilitating illness, affecting many body systems, particularly the nervous and immune systems. In its most severe form, it can leave people house- or bed-bound for decades. Many need wheelchairs and some have to be tube-fed. Initial symptoms include overwhelming exhaustion, sleep problems and joint and muscle pain.
“It’s a well-known fact that men are less likely than women to go to the doctor, hoping their problem will go away of its own accord. But with this illness that’s the worst thing you can do,” said Trish Taylor, Chair of Action for M.E. “Being a man with M.E. is not about soldiering on and pretending you’re not ill. It’s about getting informed, getting diagnosed and getting help.”
Today’s report also reveals the terrible personal cost M.E. can have on men’s lives. A significant number of men (22.7%) lose their home after falling ill, over half go through a divorce or relationship breakdown, whilst many initially keep the illness secret from family or friends.
“M.E.’s financial cost to the UK has been estimated at £6.4 billion per annum.** But the cost in terms of personal loss to those it affects is incalculable,” added Trish Taylor.
Of the men questioned most saw their income plummet as a result of the illness. Before their illness, less than 10% had an income under £10,000 a year. After developing M.E. that figure leapt to 64.2%
The World Health Organisation classifies M.E. as a neurological disease, and the NHS funding of specialist M.E. clinics is an acknowledgement that M.E. is a serious health problem.
nternationally, concern about M.E. is on the rise. In the US, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recently launched a major campaign to increase awareness and the need for early diagnosis. The CDC estimates that over a million Americans have M.E./CFS, with only 20% being officially diagnosed.
M.E. is three times more prevalent in women than men, and is often viewed as a middle-class white woman’s disease. But in reality, it affects 250,000 people of every class, age and ethnicity in the UK.
Today’s report on men with M.E. shows:
- 61.6% take over a year to get diagnosed
- A quarter (25%) take over 2.5 years to get an official diagnosis
- 51.8% suffer a divorce or relationship breakdown
- 22.7% lose their home
- When first diagnosed almost a third (30.3%) do not tell employers, and 39.1% do not tell their families.
- 88.5% do not initially disclose their illness to friends
- 14.6% take over six months to first visit a doctor
- 42.7% take over a month to seek medical And advice
- Almost a third (27.3%) feel that their gender impacts on how they are treated by the medical profession during the process of diagnosis
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- There are an estimated 80,000 men in Britain with M.E.
- * Initial figures based on an Action for M.E. survey of over 2,000 people with M.E., followed up by in-depth research using a sample of 200 via a web-based questionnaire and individual interviews
- ** Sheffield Hallam University, Survey and Statistical Research Centre 2006
- Figures for the prevalence of M.E. vary widely. The (conservative) figure of 240,00 people with M.E. in the UK is based on the Chief Medical Officer’s Report of 2002
- Action for M.E. is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to improving the lives of people with M.E. The charity has been at the forefront of the campaign for more research, better treatments and services for people with M.E., since 1987