Chronic fatigue syndrome – or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) – is a condition that is often misunderstood. Often thought by many to be no more than extreme tiredness, the reality of its impact is far wider reaching. Because of its complexity treatment is very difficult to tailor effectively for each individual who has it, which leads to disagreement within the medical community about the best approach.
An Overview of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Before looking at the difficulties of treatment it’s important to know the effects of chronic fatigue syndrome.
As the name suggests, the major symptom is the extreme level of fatigue that the condition induces. This can leave people totally bedbound for significant periods of time. However, the condition can also affect the body’s ability to work as it should in other ways such as; causing headaches, nausea, muscle pain and spasms, sensitivity to noise and light, and digestive difficulties. Typically, symptoms will flare up in what’s known as relapses.
What is the Current Way to Treat Chronic Fatigue?
The most widely used treatment for those with chronic fatigue syndrome is graded exercise therapy (GET). The goal of this treatment is gradually increase the amount of physical activity the individual with ME undertakes. This is done by undertaking a structured exercise plan with the help of a trained specialist. The intensity of this regime is tailored for each person, with the starting point and speed of progression being altered depending on the severity of the person’s ME.
Other secondary treatments include medication, lifestyle and diet alterations, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help deal with the limitations the illness may impose.
Why is this Approach to Treatment Debated?
GET treatment may be the most commonly used way of managing chronic fatigue syndrome but there is much debate over its true benefit. Because of the physical nature of the treatment some medical professionals are disputing whether or not GET does more harm than good.
Some medical professionals are suggesting that many with ME simply do not have the muscular strength to undertake GET. It’s argued that by pushing an individual with ME too much it could result in an even more severe relapse of symptoms, essentially going one step forward two steps back in terms of recovery. Instead, a more flexible approach with increased rest is suggested.
However, there are also medical professionals that deem GET the best available treatment. They say that GET can help those with chronic fatigue syndrome do more physically and regain a greater quality of life. Additionally, they say that deterring people from GET could deny people from the best available treatment for ME.
This disagreement demonstrates the complexity and, as yet, still thin understating of chronic fatigue syndrome. Because of the mixed results of this major treatment the health watchdog NICE is upgrading the treatment guidelines. This review of treatment procedure may well be a step in the right direction. However, the need to fund research of chronic fatigue syndrome to find a more universally effective treatment will be the clearest path to an improved quality of life for so many.