Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Why is it important to raise awareness about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)?
Why am I making such a fuss about this disease and why should you listen to me? The first reason is that this is an illness, most likely caused by either by an enterovirus (like polio) or possibly by a retrovirus (like HIV), which anybody can get – you, your child, your partner, your friend, your lover. From research and experience we know that exercise of any kind makes the illness worse. Your doctor doesn’t know this. Doctors around the world are trained neither to recognize the symptoms of ME, nor how to treat it. There is no cure. Your government is spending no money on bio-medical research into prevention or treatment of this devastating neurological illness that affects more people than MS. The suicide rate for people with ME is unacceptably high; people have died of ME in epidemics, but most deaths from ME go unrecorded as they are (like deaths from AIDS) due to related conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
The second reason to listen is to protect children and young people with ME from dangerous treatment, from an unnecessary worsening of their condition, and from possible forced removal from their families (yes, it happens). Children are particularly vulnerable with this illness, and children as young as five have been known to get it. Because there are as yet no easy tools for diagnosis, such as a simple blood test, children are frequently not believed when they complain of feeling unwell. In both the UK and the USA there are cases of social services forcibly removing children from their families and placing them in psychiatric units, as if they were mentally ill. Having just given away kittens I am living with an upset and bereaved mother cat – I cannot begin to imagine the anguish of caring parents whose sick child has been forcibly removed from their care; yet this is happening in our societies, to children sick with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. ME is (like MS) a neurological illness, identified and classified as such by the World Health Organization (WHO ICD- 10 G93.3), yet misinformation and obstruction by psychiatrists and insurance companies has blocked bio-medical research into the condition, and has ensured that medical doctors remain in ignorance, or are unable to treat ME patients appropriately. If you are in any doubt about these statements I encourage you to read the Professor Malcolm Hooper report (http://www.meactionuk.org.uk/magical-medicine.pdf) or the book Osler’s Web by Hillary Johnson (available from Amazon). Look up the names of Sophie Mirza and Lynn Gilderdale, young women both dead from ME, both mistreated by the health authorities in the UK. Read about Alison Hunter who died of ME aged 19 in Australia, or read about teenager Ryan Baldwin, forcibly removed from his family by social services in North Carolina on 1/23/2009 (now back home and doing well).
ME may not kill you straight away; it is not as scary as ebola or malaria or dengue fever; but it will take away your life as you know it. Although some people only suffer from mild symptoms and are able to continue working and enjoy some kind of (usually restricted) social life, approximately 25% of people with ME are completely bedridden, living in darkened rooms, unable to feed or clean themselves, totally dependent on family members. These are the people with ME whom you don’t see. Others, like myself, are visible in the street once in a while (I have the energy, on average, to leave my flat twice a week), but we have no social life – we can no longer visit cafés or restaurants, we cannot enjoy a walk on the beach or a day out shopping or a family meal. These simple activities are too painful.
What can you do?
Learn to recognize the symptoms of ME – early diagnosis may prevent the illness from becoming severe. Understand that exercise makes the illness significantly worse. If you suspect that you, or someone you know, might have ME, stop all exercise and do whatever it takes to get a correct diagnosis. Symptoms of ME include (but are not limited to): dizziness, brain fog (a fuzzy feeling in your head to varying degrees), orthostatic intolerance (you find it uncomfortable to remain standing for more than a few minutes), difficulties with concentration and memory, lack of energy, a heavy feeling or pain in muscles, post-exertional malaise (i.e. exercise makes you feel worse, not better), a general feeling of being unwell (similar to flu or a bad hangover), headaches, extreme fatigue that is not relieved by sleep, difficulties sleeping, digestive problems, extreme sensitivity to light and noise.
Push for government funding into bio-medical causes of, and treatment for, ME. Contact your MP, your senator, your congressman or woman and ask them to ensure that government funds go into the right kind of research. In the UK vast sums of money have been wasted on research into trials of counseling and exercise for people with ME. Would you expect counseling and exercise to help people with MS, lupus or AIDS? No! Nor will they make any difference to people with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Government funds should be spent on research into ME in the same proportion as they are spent on MS, lupus, AIDS, or similar diseases. All we ask for is equal treatment – in provision of research funds, medical care, and social services.
One last word – what on earth is “chronic fatigue syndrome”? “CFS” is an idea constructed by psychiatrists and insurance companies to belittle the serious illness Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in order to avoid expensive insurance payments or disability support payments. The correct name for the disease, as listed by the WHO, is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Fatigue is a common symptom of many illnesses – cancer, MS, AIDS, lupus, flu, and so on. It is no more a defining feature of ME than it is of MS. Unfortunately many people have been misdiagnosed with “CFS” by badly informed doctors when in reality they have other illnesses that are difficult to diagnose, such as cancer, lupus, MS, etc. For this reason it is urgent that doctors learn how to correctly diagnose ME. For more information the work by Dr Byron Hyde is particularly useful (see: http://www.nightingale.ca/documents/ComplexitiesofDiagnosis.pdf)
ME is not limited to Europe, Australasia and North America. I became ill while working in East Africa; cases have been reported in India, and there are support groups for people with ME (PWME) on Chinese social networking sites.
If you would like to learn more, I recommend these websites:
Nightingale Research Foundation (Dr Byron Hyde) http://www.nightingale.ca/index.php?target=home
The Hummingbirds’ Foundation for M.E.
ME Action UK
Invest in ME
Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease
National Alliance for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis
The Young ME Sufferers Trust
The Grace Charity for M.E.
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