Raising Awareness of an Invisible Disease
In the United States alone, over one million people suffer from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). You may know it by its more common name, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). For people who suffer from this disease, simple day-to-day activities can seem impossible. Even spending a night out with friends turns into a challenge to be overcome.
In the most severe cases of ME/CFS, a patient can be housebound for 90% of the time. Even in its less severe forms, it can still be frequently incapacitating. Despite the name, there are more symptoms than fatigue. It can, and frequently does, impact immune, endocrine, and cardiac systems as well as affecting the brain and gut biology. Because of the complexity of the disease and the fact that it has no visible signs, it is hard to accurately diagnose.
The fatigue that comes as a primary symptom of ME/CFS is more than just being tired after work. One patient described it as “unrelenting exhaustion.” Imagine being weak in your arms and legs, having swelling in your joints and throughout your upper torso. Since your body is always tired, you become susceptible to every cold and bacteria that gets close, most of which enter in through the mouth and nose. For those with ME/CFS, this isn’t a bad week, it is a daily reality.
From a mental aspect, ME/CFS restricts word recognition, conversation skills, and inhibits conversational ability. The isolation is frequently frustrating and many patients become depressed after a time. Even more frustrating is that not all patients have all of the symptoms. So, one person may have fatigue but less cognitive blocks and another may have problems with cognitive function and less fatigue.
Currently, researchers, scientists, doctors, and other medical professionals are examining a variety of theories related to determining a cause, finding a cure, and alleviating symptoms. Since most individuals who have CFS are female, it is possible that chemicals play a role or that the predisposition is genetically inherited.
There are many other theories concerning what causes CFS. One theory is that viruses such as human herpes virus 6, mouse leukemia viruses, and the Epstein-Barr virus are a trigger for the disease. Another theory is that problems in the immune system are the cause.
As far as treatments go, there are many medications designed to treat the symptoms when they are caused by other conditions (such as pain killers). All that can be done with these pharmaceuticals is to temporarily relieve pain. But it is likely that more long-term damage is being done. Luckily, there are research teams exploring organic and holistic methods, including meditation, yoga, diet, energy healing, herbal teas, dental hygiene, and therapy. Of course, this is uncharted territory. But, by taking Western medicine and blending in Eastern healing methods we actually stand a chance at giving people back their lives.
The cause will likely be unclear until many more years of research are done. What we do know is that women, especially those over 40 and under large amounts of stress are the most susceptible and make up the largest percentage of sufferers.
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