Saturday 7 May 2022

Diagnosis Part 2 of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)



“Doctors, please learn how to correctly diagnose ME”

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) 

ME is a distinct, recognisable disease entity that is not difficult to diagnose and can in fact be diagnosed relatively early in the course of the disease, providing that the doctor has some experience with ME. 

As with a wide variety of illnesses; lupus and multiple sclerosis (MS), for example, there is as yet no single test which can diagnose ME. 

Therefore, ME must instead be diagnosed by a combination of: taking a detailed medical history to rule out other possible causes of symptoms, noting the type and severity of symptoms and other characteristics of the illness, the type of onset of the symptoms, acute or sudden onset of symptoms is seen in ME though feedback tells us that others experience gradual onset. 

An accurate diagnosis can be made by a doctor using diagnostic criteria specifically written for and about ME such as the International Consensus Primer (ICP) 2012.


Scientists have not yet found biological abnormalities in ME that are specific enough to be used as a single diagnostic test, even though abnormalities in the brain and the immune system show very clearly that Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is a serious, systemic illness. (see ICC 2011) There is also the issue of accommodating various subgroups in the global ME community. ME is diagnosed by excluding other illnesses that share many of the same symptoms. The earlier ME is diagnosed, the sooner symptom management and support can begin.

A diagnosis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) should be a positive clinical diagnosis based on a characteristic galaxy of symptoms and clinical features: -

Post-Exertional Neuro Immune Exhaustion (PENE) the cardinal feature of ME as per the International Consensus Criteria (ICC). PENE is sometimes referred to as ‘payback’ / ‘crash’ / ‘relapse’/’PEM’.

Lack of energy most of the time which feels different from ordinary fatigue. Ability to make energy at cell level is lost.


Persistent pain

Chronic nerve pain

Crushing pain

Global wide-spread pain

Muscle pain

Joint pain

Jolts of pain

Increased sensitivity to pain

Painful feet

Glandular pain

Sore throat (recurrent)


Swollen glands


Trigeminal neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia

Chest pain

Back pain

Twitching muscles or cramps

Abdominal pain (stomach or bowel problems)

Costochondritis (inflamed chest wall)

Skin crawling sensations

Burning itching

Stabbing pain


Skin pain

Eye pain, back of eyes pain

Vein inflammation pain

Severe menstrual pain





Generalised head pain

Neck pain


Cognitive dysfunction:

Problems concentrating, e.g. an inability to follow conversation

Lack of ability to process information

Loss of ability to plan

Loss of ability to think

Loss of memory

Poor short term memory

General forgetfulness

Loss of speech

Slowed Speech


Forgetting names

Not recognising faces

Word loss

Inability to understand

Inability to identify left from right

Switching letters round in words

Difficulty retaining information

Mental Confusion

Difficulty concentrating

Unable to hold two-way conversation


Not fully conscious

Inability to read (without a learning issue present)

Inability to write (without a learning issue present)

Problems with thinking 

Cognitive overload

Reduced attention span

Word-finding difficulties

Inability to or organise thoughts and/or speech


Cardiac issues:





Orthostatic intolerance


Insufficient increase in blood pressure on exertion

Reduced blood flow

Arterial elasticity dysfunction

Reduced heart rate variability during sleep suggests a pervasive state of nocturnal sympathetic hyper-vigilance and may contribute to poor sleep quality

Vascular abnormalities suggest there is insufficient circulating blood volume in the brain when in an upright position, and blood may pool in the extremities.

Respiratory issues:

Respiratory depression

Air hunger

Chest pain

Laboured breathing

Breathing difficulty

Pins and needles 

Oxygen depletion

Shortness of breath


Multiple sensitivities: (intolerance to light/sound/smell/movement/touch/food/materials/other)

Hyperacusis (noise sensitivity)

Photophobia (light sensitivity)

Hypersensitivity to smells

Hyperesthesia (touch sensitivity)

Motion sensitivity

Chemical sensitivity

Drug sensitivity

Food sensitivity

Alcohol sensitivity/intolerance

Materials sensitivity/intolerance

Vibration intolerance


Visual disturbances:


Inability to focus

Impaired depth perception

Poor spatial recognition

Fuzzy/ blurred vision

Double letter vision

Tunnel vision

Eye pain

Dry eyes (do not hold tear film)

Itching eyes

Burning eyes

Flashing eyes (open or shut)

Seeing pinpoints of light in the dark



Total paralysis

Partial paralysis


Elevated oxidative stress markers, ncreased with exertion 

Gastrointestinal Issues:

Loss of appetite


Excessive wind/bloating

Stomach Cramps

Alternating diarrhoea and constipation




Food Allergies (multiple)

Gastric issues

Swallowing difficulties         


Acid reflux


Gut and bowel issues

Food sensitivity

Malabsorption issues

Weight loss


(some of the above symptoms may lead to life threatening malnutrition in severe ME cases)


Genitourinary issues

Urinary urgency

Urinary frequency

Excessive urination at night

Dental issues:

Mercury intolerance (silver fillings)


Temperature control problems/ dysregulation & Loss of thermostatic stability: 

Sweating profusely

Feeling feverish

Feeling extreme cold, cold extremities

Abnormal body temperature

Temperature fluctuations

Heat intolerance

Cold Intolerance

Poor Circulation


Sleep difficulties:


Lucid dreaming


Sleep disruption - frequent awakening

Unrefreshing sleep

Sleep apnea


Inability to stay awake

Difficulty getting to sleep

Waking for long periods

Restless sleep

Sleep reversal (e.g. sleeping from 4am till noon)

Flu-like symptoms:

Sore throat

Tender Lymph nodes

Susceptible to infection

Susceptible to repeated infections

Slow recovery


More symptoms/features as reported by patients:


 Peripheral neuropathy


 Muscle spasms (shaking) including in the throat)


 Violent, uncontrollable ‘tics’ in limbs

 Restless legs

 Muscle wasting

 Lack of strength

Heavy limbs

Muscle weakness

Hyperacusis (sensitivity to noise sometimes alternating with deafness or normal hearing)

Tinnitus (constant sound in the ears)

Feeling of toxicity

Loss of sensation

Numbness or tingling in the extremeties

Pins & needles

Loss of proprioception

Sinus problems

Extreme excess mucous

Severe anxiety

Hypnogogic jerks

Hypoglycaemia leading to fainting attacks



Black outs


Low and/or high blood pressure



Loss of equilibrium

Loss of balance

Inability to stand

Inability to walk

Inability to sit

Poor/loss of co-ordination


Raynaud’s phenomenon (poor circulation in fingers and toes)

B12 deficiency is common

Vitamin D deficiency is common

Endocrine dysfunction



Inability to hold things

Inability to lift things

Sensory overload

Severe sensory issues

Loss of touch

Loss of taste

No energy

No strength

Lack of stamina

Disabling fatigue* (see more re fatigue below)

Emotional lability

Compromised immune system

Severe thirst


Excessive saliva

Mouth sores

Kidney infections

Crippling Exhaustion

Chronic infections

Slow recovery from colds/flu


Skin rashes


Loose joints

Easily dislocated joints

Hair loss

Weight loss

Weight gain


Compromised immune system


Discomfort all over

Feeling generally unwell (malaise)

Feeling generally exhausted,  exhaustion reached more rapidly


The long list of symptoms above includes symptoms from a combination of patient feedback and symptoms as per a study by Greg Crowhurst.


Within each symptom there may be a wide spectrum of severity, from mild to moderate to severe to very severe and profound. There may be marked fluctuation of symptom severity from day to day or hour to hour.

You or a person with ME may only experience some of the symptoms listed above, and not all at the same time. Everyone with ME has a different range of symptoms and severities.
We are not medics but our advice is to always get new or worsening symptoms checked by your doctor so that they can assess whether the symptoms are part of your ME or are caused by something different.

As before, treat individual symptoms as far as possible, looking at the worst symptoms first (eg. pain, sleep issues, restless legs orthostatic intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, headaches, etc).  

Because of the complexity of ME - its fluctuating nature and the broad range of symptoms, different management strategies work for different people. Not all prescription drugs/over the counter medicines/supplements work in the same way for everyone so it may be a case of trial and error getting the drug/medicine/supplement and dosage right for an individual. Some people may be intolerant to drugs/medicines/supplements and may have to look into alternative therapies.

How the person with Severe/Very Severe ME Feels (as well as the above): -

• Totally dependent

• Extreme discomfort

• Trapped inside a numb, empty shell of a body

• No Possible movement

• Paralysis - total/partial

• Absolute pain

• Profoundly hypersensitive even to fabrics, e.g., clothes and bed linen

• Multiple Sensitivities

• Helpless

• Blank mind

• Look asleep but totally aware and conscious

• Everything is out of reach

• Completely unable to communicate

What the person with Severe ME says: -

• I shake

• I cannot sit up/stand/move or walk

• I am dizzy

• I struggle to breath

• Eating is difficult, so I am tube fed

• I cannot comprehend information

• Light hurts me and noise damages me

• Smells set me back and I can feel so unwell just from someone’s perfume

• I have zero energy to function

• I live in a fog of inability.


 - 'How the person with Severe/Very Severe ME Feels' & 'What the person with Severe ME says' by Greg Crowhurst

The daily reality of people with Severe ME is much worse than not having the 'basic energy' to engage in daily tasks, while that of people with Very Severe/Profound ME is so horrendous, there just are no words to describe how awful it is - pain, paralysis, cognitive issues, terrible hypersensitivities, profound system dysfunction.


ME can be unpredictable. Symptom fluctuation is a common characteristic, symptoms may come and go, or there may be changes in how bad they are over time.


‘The danger is that the long list of symptoms above can still, unintentionally, underplay their severity and seriousness, the totally disabling nature and the individual intensity of each one, which together add up to a physical nightmare of indescribable proportion for a person with ME.’ 

- Greg Crowhurst -



What your GP (doctor) should ask you:

A doctor needs to ask about the symptoms to learn how often they occur, how bad they are, and how long they have lasted. It is also important for doctors to talk with patients about how the symptoms affect their lives.

Doctors need to ask questions such as: -

- What are you able to do now?

- How does it compare to what you were able to do before?

- How long have you felt this way?

- Can you remember when your symptoms began? Was it a sudden/gradual onset?

- What makes you feel worse? What helps you feel better?

- What happens when you try to do activities that are now difficult for you?

- What symptoms keep you from doing what you want to do?

- What symptoms keep you from doing what you need to do, e.g. your job?

At well as a symptom checklist, a thorough clinical evaluation involving history taking, physical examination and investigations should be carried out to exclude other medical conditions that can cause ME-like symptoms.



Important Note: Early Diagnosis is essential

The aim should be to provide patients with an early and accurate diagnosis. Making an early and accurate diagnosis of ME will allow patients to receive appropriate treatments in a timely fashion, which may lessen the severity and impact.

Early diagnosis will enable a comprehensive plan of management to be agreed between the patient and doctor. This should cover symptom management and symptom relief.

Developing an agreed plan of appropriate management should prevent inappropriate or harmful approaches taking place – e.g. attempting to ‘work through illness’ – and should therefore reduce the risk of a more prolonged and severe illness occurring.


Did you know

 . . . . that the 6-month waiting period before diagnosis is not required as per the ICC 2011.

‘No other disease criteria require that diagnoses be withheld until after the patient has suffered with the affliction for 6 months. Notwithstanding periods of clinical investigation will vary and may be prolonged, diagnosis should be made when the clinician is satisfied that the patient has ME rather than having the diagnosis restricted by a specified time factor. Early diagnoses may elicit new insights into the early stages of pathogenesis; prompt treatment may lessen the severity and impact.’ 



A diagnosis of ME is made after other possible causes for symptoms have been excluded.
Many illnesses can have quite similar symptoms so excluding other conditions is an essential part of the process to inform a diagnosis.
A diagnosis of ME involves exclusions of other active disease processes that could explain major symptoms of sleep disturbance, pain, and cognitive dysfunction. It is essential to exclude certain diseases that may very well be treated and managed easily, e.g.

Addison's disease,

Cushing's Syndrome,

Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism,

Iron deficiency, other treatable forms of anaemia, iron overload syndrome, Diabetes.


It is also essential to exclude treatable sleep disorders such as

Upper airway resistance syndrome and obstructive or central sleep apnoea; Rheumatological disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Lupus, Polymyositis and Polymyalgia Rheumatica.

Immune disorders such as AIDS.

Neurological disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, Myasthenia Gravis

B12 deficiency.

Infectious diseases such as Tuberculosis, chronic Hepatitis, Lyme disease, etc

Exclusion of other diagnoses, which cannot be reasonably excluded by the patient's history and physical examination, is achieved by laboratory testing and imaging. If a potentially confounding medical condition is under control, then the diagnosis of ME can be entertained if patients meet the criteria otherwise.


Further Reading

Diagnosis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) Part 1

Diagnosis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) Part 3

Some material above is based on/includes writings by Greg Crowhurst, we are indebted to Greg and Linda Crowhurst, who suffers from very severe ME, for their broad insight into severe ME and for sharing information to help educate medics and others about the debilitating and horrendous symptoms and features associated with the severity ranges in severe ME.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is for general information purposes only. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the post or the information, products, services, etc contained in the post for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.The suitability of any solution is totally dependent on the individual. It is strongly recommended to seek professional advice and assistance. 

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