Researchers from Newcastle University’s institute for ageing and health have found that doctors are misdiagnosing up to a third of suspected cases of ME.
ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) is a chronic fatigue illness that affects around 250,000 people in the UK. It is notoriously difficult to diagnose due to the absence of reliable tests.
According to lead researcher, Professor Julia Newton, around 80,000 people thought to be suffering with ME are in fact living with a completely different condition called postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS).
PoTS is an abnormality in the nervous system which can be easily treated via lifestyle changes and a range of medication including beta blockers.
Newton says that doctors often fail to distinguish between PoTS and ME because little is known about the causes of the illnesses.
Health professionals also rely heavily on the assessment of symptoms to diagnose ME and may confuse PoTS symptoms with signs of chronic fatigue.
“I would think that around one third of people with chronic fatigue syndrome, if they were properly tested, would have PoTs,” Professor Newton said.
“PoTS is an abnormal response of the nervous system, but it is a spectrum, so some people will feel dizzy on standing, while others will actually black out.”
ME symptoms on the other hand tend to be more persistent, and some people affected will be bed-bound due to their extreme fatigue.
Doctors usually classify the illness via signs of sudden tiredness lasting more than six months that cannot be explained by anything else such as excessive exercise or hard work.
Although there is no cure, patients can receive medication to alleviate muscle aches and pains and are often encouraged to have therapy.
Sonya Chowdhury, chief executive of the charity Action for ME, said: “The findings are really interesting. We know that misdiagnosis is a big issue and are aware of the association with PoTS.
“GPs and other healthcare professionals regularly tell us about the difficulty they have in diagnosing ME and the need for much more research into and education about the nature of ME.”
Hypnotherapy is commonly used in addition to medical treatments to help ME sufferers cope better with their symptoms, while addressing various side effects of the illness, including low self-esteem and stress. To find out more about how hypnotherapy can help, please see our Chronic Fatigue Syndrome page.
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