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Causes Causes
Trying to find what causes ME/CFS remains one of the biggest mysteries of the disease. Unfortuantely different ME sufferers experience quite different symptoms, which is why it is so hard to pinpoint an exact cause of the disease. The sad fact is that at the moment no-one really knows what causes ME, though there is plenty of evidence to suggest that specific factors are connected to the development of the disease. However, direct causes, as opposed to correlations, have yet to be demonstrated conclusively. For example, even though it is known that some people who have had glandular fever can develop ME, most people who have glandular fever do not go on to develop full blown ME.

Our knowledge is incomplete. Although significant inroads have been made a great deal more research needs to be done before any one factor can be concretely implicated in the disease. Further research is being carried out into the pathology, epidemiology and physiology of ME sufferers and I have outlined some of the conclusions reached so far in the "Research" page.

At present the major factors that scientists and medical professionals believe could play a significant role are:
  • Infections such as glandular fever, hepatitis, enteroviruses
  • Vaccinations (much less common)
  • Pollutants and toxic chemicals such as organophosphates
  • Major stressful events

As with many human diseases the development of ME seems to be a multi-factorial process - in other words it is not dependent on any one single factor. I have illustrated this idea below:

Infection + stress + tiredness = ME/CFS

Many people suffer ME relapses, for example, when a series of events occurs that puts too much "toxic load" on the body, resulting in a "crash" following a period of relatively good health. Winter bugs combined with stress and cold temperatures, for example, are all known to combine together to trigger a significant worsening of symptoms. I have included some further details on factors that might be harmful to ME sufferers in the "Relapses" page. Some of these cannot be avoided, but some of them can. Think carefully about whether some of these factors might be making your symptoms worse and try to change if you can!

From the above diagram you can see that, as with multi-factorial diseases such as cancer, in order to help the ME sufferer many different facets of the disease will need to be addressed. If the above model is correct it would seem unlikely that any one factor will "cure" ME. Rather a multi-pronged approach, including drugs (perhaps, though not yet known which drugs!), lifestyle changes and coping strategies, will probably be the most effective way of dealing with ME.

Ultimately many sufferers find that their attempts to find the cause come to a dead end. For example, it is virtually impossible to screen for every single virus that might be thought to lead to ME. Even if a specific virus were found it is expensive to treat with anti-viral drugs which can also produce nasty side-effects. Therefore most sufferers tend to focus on the reduction in severity of their symptoms over time. Many people do recover completely and it is perhaps those most willing to alter their lifestyles that recover the quickest, though (as you will probably know!) there are no hard and fast rules with ME (see my "Help Yourself" page for more information).

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All published data copyright by David Incoll 2001