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Comparing M.E. and MS: April research round-up

April 28, 2016

Each month, Action for M.E. Volunteer Pharmacist Emily Beardall explains some of the recently published research studies on M.E.

Please note this is not an exhaustive list – we have selected to highlight the studies that we think are most likely to resonate with the daily lives of those affected by the condition. We will also report separately on further studies of significance, as and when they are published.

You can search online directory PubMed for most studies about M.E. that are published in peer-reviewed journals.

The following studies were published online between 22 March and 21 April 2016. In each case, we have used the same name for the illness as the researchers publishing the paper.

Similarities and differences in CFS/M.E. and MS

study in the Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology compared the immune systems of M.E and multiple sclerosis (MS). Both have previously been shown to have a reduced number of natural killer cells, which attack virus-infected cells, compared with healthy controls. This study found differences between CFS/M.E. and MS in the levels of three types of immune system cells which regulate the immune response and normally prevent us developing antibodies to our own cells or autoimmune conditions. The results help to reinforce that there are clear immune system changes in people with CFS/M.E. compared with healthy people.

Cognitive difficulties in CFS

paper in the journal Current Rheumatology Reports reviews the evidence for the cognitive problems, such as difficulties with attention, memory and concentration, experienced by people with CFS. The authors noted from the studies reviewed that worse cognitive functioning is linked with worse physical functioning, and that it is one of the most disabling features of the illness. The reason for these symptoms is still unknown, though there is some evidence to suggest that inflammation in the nervous system is the cause. The authors concluded that developing a specific test for cognitive problems in CFS, instead of the variety of tests which have been used in the studies so far, might help to further research in this area.

How do women with CFS/M.E. rate their healthcare?

A large proportion of women with CFS/M.E. rate their primary and specialist healthcare as poor or very poor, with dissatisfaction with primary care being much higher, reports a Norwegian study in the British Medical Journal. Women with more severe CFS/M.E. rated their care much poorer than those with less severe CFS/M.E. The authors state that the sample of women may not be representative of all patients with CFS/M.E. given possible selection bias due to recruitment from a patient organisation. Nevertheless, the study suggests that there are improvements which need to be made in the quality of CFS/M.E. healthcare.

Online patient communities as social movements for change

paper in the Journal of Medical Humanities looks at two Norwegian examples of online discussions in the M.E. community as part of a social health movement created by people with M.E. to change the perception of the illness by promoting its biomedical cause and nature. The paper suggests that informal networking, collective action, collective identity, and having a common opponent (eg. people who don't believe that M.E. has a physical cause) are what binds and drives online patient communities.