Why did it take so long for ME to become recognised as a disease

01:00 Tue 15th Jan 2002 |

asks woolley:�
A. Until now, most doctors didn't think that ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome or yuppie flu) actually existed. Even when it was recognised that there was something wrong, no-one knew how to treat or manage the disorder. People with ME were - and to a large extent still are - told that it is all in the mind or that they are hypochondriacs who should pull themselves together.

Now, however, a new report, commissioned three years ago by the ex-government chief medical officer, Sir Kenneth Calman, recognises that ME is a chronic and treatable illness, and that it should officially be known as CFS/ME.

Q. Did the report recommend a cure
Not as such. The working group found that there is no available cure, but says that sufferers can benefit from graded exercise therapy and depression treatments.

Q. Is it a psychological illness
No. An editorial in The Lancet stated that using depression therapy to treat CFS/ME does not mean it is psychological.

Q. What will happen now
According to the government's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, this report brings ME out of the wilderness. He admitted that little was known about the cause and treatment of the condition (although it was agreed that one or two viruses may trigger it), but that now there was a real basis for action.

Q. Is that the end of the controversy over CFS/ME
Not much chance of that. For a start, both patients and professionals are split over the fundamental question of what to call the disease. However, the most serious arguments are over treatment: four clinicians and two representatives of patient groups on the working party wouldn't endorse the final report.

Q. Why
The doctors, who are mainly from the mental health field, said that they 'felt very strongly that the psycho-social side of the problem should have had more emphasis in the report,' according to Prof Donaldson.

The patient group representatives were more concerned about the recommended graded exercise therapy. They say that being pressured to take part in activities they couldn't cope with often caused patients to suffer a relapse.

Q. How many people suffer from CFS/ME
The ME Association�estimates that 150,000 people in the UK suffer from CFS/ME. Symptoms include severe and debilitating fatigue, painful muscles and joints, and disordered sleep.

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