Fatigue symptoms in Covid-19 patients. Might this throw ME into the spotlight?

Darren Hayward BSc (Ost) Registered Osteopath

For a long time now, ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) or CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) has been a vastly misunderstood condition with a lack of both attention and research given to it.

Darren Hayward, here at the practice, has a specialised interest in ME/CFS and currently sees several patients who suffer from the illness. From first-hand experience, he understands the enormity of a debilitating and frustrating disease that can give rise to a whole range of symptoms. These can include:

  • General exhaustion, even after sleep
  • Fatigue after exertion, however, light the exercise
  • Muscle pain and weakness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive problems such as difficulties with memory and attention
  • Sensitivity to sound and light
  • Dizziness
  • Ongoing flu-like symptoms
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as IBS

No one knows for sure at this point precisely what triggers ME/CFS. The general consensus is that like several other conditions, it’s likely to be a mix of factors. Environmental and genetic causes may play a substantial part, but it is now thought that up to 80% of cases are activated by infection and a corresponding reaction by the immune system.

Some degree of post-viral fatigue is very common after any sort of viral infection. In most cases, it’s short-lived and patients return to normal health in a matter of weeks. However, in some cases, it can take months…or even years…to recover, and it can become a long-term chronic illness.

Now, with the onset of Covid-19, fatigue and its impact is back in the news. In just these past few months, it’s been reported that a growing number of Covid-19 patients have gone on to develop disabling post-viral fatigue. There have also been cases of sufferers with so-called ‘mild’ symptoms who have developed an exhausting malaise that just won’t seem to shift.

How many of these will go on to develop ME/CFS remains to be seen, but experts are warning that this could be a time bomb in the making. It’s true that clusters of ME/CFS have followed other infectious outbreaks such as SARS in Hong Kong in 2003. This could prove to be true of Covid-19 in 2020.

At the moment the options for treating ME/CFS are extremely limited. For example, the NHS recommends options such as rest, medicine to control symptoms such as pain, nausea and insomnia, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and structured exercise programmes such as graded exercise therapy (GET).

This has often been frustrating for patient’s…and their practitioners. However, 2020 presents an unprecedented opportunity for progress in research. It will now be possible to collect data from Covid-19 patients, in order to investigate possible onset and development of ME/CFS. A number of Covid-19 fatigue studies are underway giving new focus and insight into a much-neglected disease. Other studies include one from the Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research who are currently searching for genetic differences that may indicate underlying causes or risks of developing the condition.

This sort of research is invaluable, as it could plausibly lead to more diagnostic tests and targeted treatment options. Something to come out of a destructive pandemic – the knowledge that will be of vast benefit to the estimated 125,000 patients currently in the UK.

To arrange an appointment with Darren, go to our Online Booking System