According to a recent article at MSN.com, chronic fatigue syndrome is finally receiving the attention it needs after long COVID sufferers experience similar symptoms.
Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), is a complicated disorder whose primary feature is extreme, seemingly unexplainable fatigue. The illness may also be commonly abbreviated as ME/CFS. The characterizing fatigue can worsen after physical and mental activity, but does not improve with rest. This fatigue seriously hinders the person’s ability to do normal tasks that were not a problem before becoming sick. It can lead to serious lifestyle restrictions and make it difficult for patients to maintain a job.
ME/CFS can affect people of all ages and sexes, but it is most common in people between 30 and 50, and affects women more often than men. It is believed that ME/CFS is underdiagnosed due to lack of education about the illness as well as limited access to healthcare.
The severity of symptoms can fluctuate with time, some symptoms will come and go, and not every individual will have all the symptoms listed below. They include:
- Intense fatigue that isn’t helped by rest
- Inability to do simple activities (taking a shower, cooking, doing laundry) because of the fatigue
- Worsening of symptoms after an activity that wouldn’t have been a problem before getting sick
- Very low stamina
- Being confined to bed
- Problems with thinking and concentrating that might feel like “brain fog”
- Blurred vision
- Sleep problems
- Worsened symptoms when standing or sitting up
- Pain in muscles and/or joints
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck and/or armpits
- Bowel dysfunction
Female Patients Historically Dismissed by Doctors
ME affects four times as many women as it does men. Scientists theorize this is because it is a disorder that affects the immune system. The X chromosomes deal with immune responses in the body, meaning women, who have two X chromosomes, are more likely to have their immune system become overactive and attack itself.
A number of patients who suffer from ME have been dismissed and even ignored by doctors. This is, in part, due to ME previously being known as chronic fatigue syndrome, which gave the misconception that it is a psychological condition or a form of depression rather than a physical disorder. In an article summarizing the connection between long COVID and ME, a spokesperson from the ME Association told Refinery29:
“The difference between ME and just feeling tired is the same as the difference between having a shower and drowning.”
How Long COVID is Helping
long COVID, similar to ME, is a post-viral illness. It is when patients have an acute COVID-19 infection that they never fully recover from. People who experience this report symptoms such as debilitating fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and loss of smell.
Since both of these illnesses revolve around a patient being infected with a virus and never fully recovering, long COVID has helped raise awareness for those suffering with ME. Unfortunately, ME research is severely underfunded, and doctors have been unable to devise a test to identify what viruses trigger ME.
The discovery of long COVID propelled a new wave of research for post-viral illnesses that patients do not recover from. ME patients and doctors have been speaking out about this phenomenon for years, but long COVID has shown on a grand scale the implications of these illnesses. This awareness is, hopefully, the first step towards new treatments for the disease and an end to the stigmatism surrounding it.