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ME or myalgic encephalitis is a chronic condition with excessive tiredness as the predominant symptom. Sufferers also complain of joint pains, muscle ache, erratic sleep patterns and poor concentration. It is often referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
There is no test to definitely diagnose someone with ME, other than having the catalogue of typical symptoms for a four-month period. Other conditions that mimic ME would normally be picked up on diagnostic tests - these may be thyroid conditions, anaemia or glandular fever which all cause fatigue.
ME is a very varying disorder and it is impossible to say at the outset how the condition will develop. Some people recover within two years, for others the course can be lifelong with frequent relapses of fatigue and pain. Younger people seem to have the best prognosis and are most likely to make a full recovery. The longer the ME persists, the less likely sufferers will be to make a complete recovery. Relapses can occur after stress, broken sleep or infections, and sufferers need to be careful about avoiding their individual triggers.
Treatment of ME is tricky - it is not well funded on the NHS, and is at the mercy of the infamous postcode lottery. Simply diagnosing and acknowledging the condition is a crucial first step. Some people find the label a comfort, others a stigma as it is more and more classified as a mental health problem.
Most ME patients are referred to specialist centres. Strict management of sleep, rest and relaxation are important steps in treatment - for example, having strict 30 minutes rest times in the daily routine and learning breathing relaxation techniques. Graded exercise programmes and cognitive behavioural therapy are used, as well as "pacing" - learning to achieve a balance between rest and activity within the limitations of the illness.