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What is M.E.?

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Everyone who experiences M.E. has a different pattern of illness, and symptoms and severity can fluctuate and change over time.

Severe and persistent fatigue or exhaustion most, or all of the time, is one of the main symptoms of M.E. This feels very different from ordinary tiredness.

Simple physical or mental activities, or combinations of activities, can leave people with M.E. feeling utterly debilitated. They can also experience an increase in other symptoms.

The impact of this may be felt straightaway but it can typically take a day or two to kick in, and is not significantly improved by resting. This is a key feature of the way M.E. affects people, and is known as post-exertional malaise (sometimes called ‘payback’).

Harvard University’s Dr Anthony Komaroff has described post-exertional malaise as “an illness within an illness.”

Other symptoms

While it’s important to find out more about the range of symptoms experienced by different people with M.E. – it is also important to know that people with M.E. may only experience a few of them and at varying levels of severity.

Always get new symptoms checked by your doctor, as they may be unrelated to M.E. Women often find that symptoms worsen at different times in their menstrual cycle.

Along with post-exertional malaise, people with M.E. may experience the following symptoms.

Feeling generally unwell

  • Having flu-like symptoms (often called “general malaise” by doctors)
  • Recurrent sore throat, with or without swollen glands.

Pain, such as:

  • aching muscles or joints
  • nerve pains or pins and needles
  • headache or migraine
  • twitching muscles or cramps
  • abdominal pain (stomach or bowel problems)
  • chest pain
  • back pain.

If pain, especially muscle pain, is more of a problem than fatigue, fibromyalgia may be an issue.

Sleep disturbance, such as:

  • unrefreshing sleep
  • difficulty getting off to sleep
  • waking for long periods in the early hours
  • light, dreamy, restless sleep
  • sleep reversal (for example sleeping from 4am till midday)
  • hypersomnia (sleeping for a long time).

Problems with concentration, thinking and memory (“brain fog”), such as:

  • reduced attention span
  • short-term memory problems
  • word-finding difficulties
  • inability to plan or organise thoughts
  • loss of concentration.

Problems with the nervous system, such as:

  • poor temperature control
  • dizziness on standing or sitting up
  • hyper-sensitivity to light and sound
  • sweating
  • loss of balance
  • poor circulation.

Digestive problems, such as:

  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • indigestion
  • excessive wind/bloating
  • cramps
  • alternating diarrhoea and constipation
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Intolerance and increased sensitivity to:

  • bright lights
  • noise
  • odours
  • some foods (for example dairy or wheat)
  • some medications
  • alcohol.

Frustration, anxiety, low mood and depression are sometimes experienced by people with M.E. as a consequence of having to cope with the impact of the condition and its symptoms.

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What is M.E.?