Progression and Potential Complications of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)


Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a condition characterized by extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory issues, trouble sleeping, muscle or joint aches, and other symptoms. These symptoms often worsen after physical or mental activity, which is known as post-exertional malaise (PEM).

Progression of ME/CFS

ME/CFS typically develops after a specific occurrence (e.g., an infection or illness, a stressful event or time period, or exposure to environmental toxins, such as mold). The symptoms may be sporadic at first and then progress to more consistent illness. The pace of progression ranges from rapid (days) to gradual (years).

For the majority of individuals with ME/CFS, symptoms don’t ever completely go away; they often fluctuate in severity but are always present. However, some people with ME/CFS may have periods in which symptoms subside, called remission, and periods in which they return, called relapse. A remission period can last for several months. Individuals who do not experience remission may have symptoms that remain relatively consistent or worsen.

There is no cure for ME/CFS. However, treatments can help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Potential complications of ME/CFS

Potential complications of ME/CFS include the following:

  • Difficulty maintaining employment or school attendance
  • Depression and other mental health conditions
  • Social isolation
  • Becoming bedridden or housebound
  • Serious disability

Treatment of ME/CFS symptoms can help prevent these complications. If complications such as depression occur, additional treatments, such as psychotherapy or antidepressants, may be beneficial.

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