ME/CFS is the acronym for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Myalgic Encephalopathy / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition that has never been properly named. The disease has had many names, including: post-viral fatigue syndrome, low natural killer cell disease, chronic Epstein-Barr virus syndrome, chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS), and the insulting Yuppie flu. (To learn more about this history, read "A Disease in Search of a Name: The History of CFS and the Efforts to Change Its Name"
None of these names captures the diverse symptoms that people who suffer from this complex disorder experience. Yes, people with ME/CFS experience fatigue, but they are also prone to memory loss, cognitive functioning problems, sleep disturbances, headaches, depression, muscle and joint pains, low-grade fever and a multitude of other symptoms. Even the word fatigue
does not accurately capture the debilitating nature of the exhaustion these people experience. Their fatigue is severe enough to significantly limit their ability to work, go to school, participate in social activities and take care of their personal needs - and is not relieved by bed rest or sleep.
While all diagnosed ME/CFS patients are "functionally impaired by definition," according to the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC studies indicate the illness can be as disabling as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or end-stage (terminal) renal failure.
ME/CFS is also a relapsing, remitting illness that often follows a cyclical course. Typically the ME/CFS patient's fatigue is made worse by either physical or mental activity, so that giving in to the temptation to overdo is repaid by "post-exertional malaise" (extreme, prolonged exhaustion and a worsening of symptoms following physical or mental exertion). The worse the illness, the less activity is possible. Indeed, the first means of testing objectively for ME/CFS may be a ""Two-day Exercise Test"
demonstrating diminished cardiopulmonary capacity in patients on the day following an initial exercise test.
Because of the difficulties surrounding the diagnosis of this condition, some physicians have suggested that the condition is imaginary or the result of depression or other mental disorder. Research, however, supports that ME/CFS is a real physiological condition that causes a substantial amount of suffering and is not a form of psychiatric illness or depression.