A tricky condition

There continues to be little understanding of Chronic Fatigue Syndrom, or myalgic...
There continues to be little understanding of Chronic Fatigue Syndrom, or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Photo: Getty Images
For teenagers in their senior high school years, the impact of ME can be significant and extremely debilitating, says parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

I last wrote about myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) almost eight years ago having touched on it eight years before that, so it seemed opportune to revisit the subject to see what progress has been made in understanding the condition.

The short answer seems to be, not much. There are still only theories about the causes, but there does seem to be a general consensus that the condition is likely to be the result of an abnormal immune system response to an infection or virus. That being said, there is often no obvious precipitating event.

The condition, variously known over the years as chronic fatigue syndrome, post-viral fatigue syndrome and Tapanui flu is a complex one characterised by, among other symptoms, an incapacitating tiredness not relieved by rest. Other symptoms can include difficulties with thinking and memory, muscle and joint pain, tender lymph nodes and night sweats.

For teenagers in their senior high school years, the impact of ME can be significant, as the condition can be extremely debilitating. We have a once healthy and fit person who, for no obvious cause, can no longer live the active life they once did and who finds that mental and physical exertions worsen the symptoms.

There are points of differentiation between depression, which should never be ruled out, and ME. Generally ME sufferers would do anything to get better, whereas those with depression tend to suffer from low levels of motivation. Exercise can worsen symptoms for ME sufferers but can alleviate them for people with depression.

For teenagers, at a time of growing independence, burgeoning social life and the need to gain academic qualifications for entry into tertiary studies, the condition creates multiple associated problems.

The sleeplessness, fatigue, muscle aches, sore throats, swollen glands and other flu-like symptoms leaves them unable to take part in competitive sports and other involvements. Social activities are minimal and they find it hard to perform well in their school work.

Since the sufferer needs to be as active as is wisely possible, it is important to set up an environment where life can be kept moving forward and not left to stall. Management involves a balance between activity and rest to avoid over-exertion, which may worsen symptoms. The aim is a gradual increase in activity and exercise levels over a period of time while maintaining energy levels.

If you have a teenager with ME, I would strongly advise you to keep the school fully informed and to make early contact with the relevant tertiary institution for advice on entrance requirements. As well, ask about the support services and course modification that might be available if the condition proves to be ongoing.


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