Healthnotes2; Health Editor Sarah Stacey Asks the Experts for Answers to Your Health Queries
Byline: SARAH STACEY
Q My daughter, 33, has been diagnosed with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) but the doctors seem to be treating her as if the illness isn't physical but all in her mind. She's not getting better. Is there another approach?
There has been fierce argument about the nature of this debilitating condition for several decades. Some psychiatrists claim it's a psychosomatic condition where patients imagine they have an illness, but increasing numbers of scientists worldwide state that it's a genuine physical (or organic) condition. The situation was reviewed in a recent parliamentary inquiry, chaired by Dr Ian Gibson MP, which backed the latter; see the full report on erythos.com/gibsonenquiry/ Docs/ME_Inquiry_Report.pdf.
'ME is a chronic inflammatory condition, involving the spinal column and nerves in the brain. It is a multi-system, multi-organ illness affecting the brain, hormones and immune system,' says Malcolm Hooper, Emeritus Professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Sunderland. It can often be traced back to a viral or bacterial infection, or even an immunisation, explains consultant physician Dr William Weir: 'Any infection switches on genes in the immune system to fight back. But research suggests that in ME patients these genes aren't switched off once the offending organism is cleared, so the immune system is stuck in a state of red alert.
Many patients say they feel as if they have flu all the time.' Toxic chemicals, such as organophosphate pesticides (used in head-lice shampoos), may trigger the illness, too.
The reasons the psychiatric lobby have claimed the condition for their own are that patients are often depressed and tests show no physical change.
Although virtually every disease has a psychological element, says the Gibson inquiry, 'it is likely the inactivity and lethargy caused by the ME combined with psychological aspects such as-social stigma, lack of classification or possibility of a cure, leave the ME sufferer-more prone to depression.' Dr Weir explains that 'while inflammation is easy to spot in other inflammatory conditions, with ME it seems very subtle and diffuse.' The situation is complicated by the fact that chronic fatigue, one of the main symptoms, can be due to other illnesses, including underactive thyroid, as well as more serious problems, so excluding those is vital. The Gibson inquiry suggests adopting the criteria for diagnosing ME developed by Dr Bruce Carruthers's team (see the Gibson inquiry, as before, pages 15-17). …