A friend of mine has had severe ME/CFS for several years and been totally bedbound for the last three. At the beginning of March, within the space of about forty eight hours, she suddenly lost most of the normal functioning and strength of her arms and hands. By turns, depending on which arm had been used the more, first one and then the other hung useless and intermittently painful by her side for a few days. She has since regained some of what she lost but the improvement now seems to have plateaued off. Her fingers remain swollen, she can barely hold a pen to sign her name and needs both hands to operate the switch of her bedside lamp. We surmise that these difficulties may have their origin in inflammation of nerve cells but we are aware that this cannot be proved. We would like to know whether similar problems have been documented in other cases and, if so, whether there is any treatment that has been found helpful.
A sudden or significant loss of movement in an arm, hand, leg or foot for no obvious reason requires urgent medical assessment. So anyone with ME/CFS who experiences this symptom, regardless of the severity of their ME/CFS, should contact their GP or dial NHS 111 (only dial 999 for a medical emergency).
If no medical reason can be found after a doctor has taken a full clinical history and carried out a physical examination, then it may be possible to conclude that this is related to ME/CFS. Swelling of the fingers is not a recognised symptom of ME/CFS.
There are various reasons why swelling of the fingers can occur – ranging from fluid retention and even heart failure to arthritic conditions and nerve entrapment problems – carpal tunnel syndrome for example. As with loss of movement, this is a symptom that requires a proper medical assessment and investigations to find the cause and provide appropriate advice on management.
See also: Joint Pain, Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Medical Matters is for information purposes only. The answers provided by Dr Shepherd and the ME Association’s other expert advisers should not be construed as medical advice. We recommend that any information you deem relevant is discussed with your GP as soon as possible. It is important to obtain advice from a GP who is in charge of your clinical care, who knows you well, and who can consider other likely causes for symptoms. Seek personalised medical advice whenever a new symptom arises, or an existing symptom worsens. Don't assume that new or worsened symptoms are a result of having ME/CFS.