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Science Alert: The Number of People With Persistent Fatigue Could Soon Double. Here’s Why.

 Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also often known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), already affects tens of millions of people worldwide. But according to new research, we could be facing twice as many cases in the near future.

By David Nield


A study from a team in Germany, published in Internal Medicine, says that the long-lasting effects of Covid-19 on many individuals will mean they could meet the diagnostic criteria for ME/CFS. While it's not yet clear if long COVID and ME/CFS are the same, they share enough similarities that mean ME/CFS case numbers could rise significantly in the coming years.

Clinically ME/CFS is defined as fatigue lasting at least six months, as well as intolerance to exercise. Yet until now there's been no reliable way of testing for the condition and its different presentations.

That's where a related study from experts at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria comes in. This second study has identified biomarkers in the blood that could be linked to ME/CFS – specific biological flags that tests can look out for.

“In our study, we see that the immunological evaluation of ME/CFS patients is of crucial importance,” says immunologist Eva Untersmayr-Elsenhuber, from the Medical University of Vienna.

The biomarkers distinguished two different groups of people with ME/CFS in a sample of 39 adults: those with weakened immune systems, and those with issues with the lining of their intestines.

The ME Association Comment

The MEA has been pointing out since May 2020 that there are important clinical and pathological overlaps between ME/CFS and Long Covid.

So it comes as no surprise to find that research studies are now concluding that around 50% of people with Long Covid also meet diagnostic criteria for ME/CFS.

This means that the number of people with long-term post-viral conditions that include debilitating fatigue has increased quite significantly over the past four years and will almost certainly continue to do so.

We clearly need a diagnostic test for ME/CFS that involves a blood abnormality that is specific to ME/CFS and which is found in a very high proportion of people. The MEA is funding two research groups who are working on promising leads here.

The research findings from Austria that are reported in this article that are based on immune system abnormality are clearly interesting.

However, these findings need to be replicated by other independent research groups before we can make any firm conclusions about their validity as a diagnostic test for ME/CFS.

Finally, it is incorrect to state that it requires 6 months of symptoms to make a diagnosis of ME/CFS. The new NICE guideline makes it very clear that doctors should be aiming to make a diagnosis when symptoms have persisted for 3 months.

Dr Charles Shepherd,
Trustee and
Hon. Medical Adviser
to the ME Association.

Dr Charles Shepherd
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