Commonly, a previously fit and active person becomes ill after a sudden infection. Other triggers include vaccinations, surgery, organophosphate pesticides, toxins, major trauma, stress, severe emotional upset and pregnancy. Sometimes a person will gradually decline in health with no precipitating event. In these cases the individual may experience a slow decline in health over a period of months or years and may indeed find it difficult to remember a time of well-being.
The most prominent symptom is severe fatigue and malaise following physical or mental activity. Often the exhaustion is delayed and does not show itself until 24 to 48 hours after the activity. This is a profound fatigue and must not be confused with the tiredness associated with a busy lifestyle and which will likely clear up after a good nights sleep. Unfortunately, with ME/CFS this is not the case.
According to the ME Association of the UK other main symptoms are:
Muscle symptoms include exercise intolerance and post-exertional malaise (i.e. feeling shattered the day after undue physical activity), pain/myalgia (present in around 75% of people) and fasciculations (visible twitching of the muscles which sometimes includes blepharospasm/eyelid twitching).
Brain and Central Nervous System symptoms include cognitive dysfunction (problems with short-term memory, concentration and maintaining attention), clumsiness, disequilibrium likened to 'walking on rubber', and word finding abilities. Problems with control of the autonomic nervous system results in palpitations, sweating episodes and symptoms associated with low blood pressure/postural hypotension (e.g. fainting).
Symptoms which suggest on-going abnormalities in immune system function include sore throats, enlarged glands, joint pains, headaches, problems with temperature control and intermittent flu-like feelings.
Other symptoms which frequently occur in ME/CFS include sleep disturbances (often increased requirements at the onset followed by an inability to maintain a full night's sleep), alcohol intolerance (a very characteristic feature, particularly in the early period of illness) and irritable bowel symptomatology.
Some people also develop emotional lability or mood swings and features of clinical depression as time goes on.
Besides these more obvious and wide-spread symptoms there is also a myriad of "minor" ones. Not everyone experiences all of them and often they are not mentioned when patients describe their illness; however there is often very visible relief when they find others, too, have similar experiences.
The symptoms of ME/CFS are likely to fluctuate throughout the day. The term ‘good day’ or ‘bad day’ doesn’t really apply so readily to people suffering with the illness as symptoms can change so quickly. The illness nearly always results in a serious reduction in the ability to cope with normal daily living. Relapses are common. Infections, extreme temperature changes, general anesthetics and both physical and/or mental stress will likely bring on an attack.
If you are concerned that you may have this illness please contact a qualified doctor who will be able to offer you a thorough examination. If you find you’re experiencing some medical resistance, don’t take it personally, many doctors are not so well read on the matter -- although there is a growing body of knowledge and the illness is now being officially recognized by the The World Health Organisation. The best thing you can do is educate yourself thoroughly and keep asking for second and third opinions if need be. You could also research whether certain doctors are sympathetic to the illness and ask to join their practice. Do not give up; this is a long, lonely illness and the more support you can get earlier on the better for you in the long term.
References:The ME Association (meassociation.org.uk)