As recently as last year, medical research kept an arm’s length from studying myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), which is associated with a subset of symptoms that includes brain fog, fatigue, and chronic pain that last for months at a time. The conditions didn’t get much respect, either, from many physicians whose patients reported the symptoms; dismissing them as psychological manifestations.
Too Big to Ignore
Now that it appears that coronavirus is morphing into ME/CFS, medicine is singing a different tune. More importantly, the swelling numbers of COVID-19 long-haulers who report the symptoms can no longer be ignored.
“You had it. It’s documented. No one can doubt that. That makes it credible,” says Dr. Anthony Komaroff, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
And there is good reason to study this condition at depth right now.
“The coronavirus pandemic is very likely over time to create almost a pandemic of ME.”Ron Tompkins, MD, Surgeon, Massachusetts General Hospital
Explaining the Inexplicable
Tompkins, who also researches ME/CFS, says long-haulers who have persistent symptoms related to specific organ damage won’t fit that diagnosis, but thousands of people who now have inexplicable symptoms likely will.
How, exactly, is ME/CFS defined? According to the Institute of Medicine, a diagnosis of the condition can be made if a person reports a level of fatigue that impairs normal activity for at least 6 months and post-exertional malaise. A diagnosis would also require feeling unrested after sleep and a report of either cognitive changes or orthostatic intolerance.
In an interview with Time, Tompkins explains that any progress for ME/CFS patients will hinge on doctors definitively determining that coronavirus can turn into ME/CFS, instead of making post-coronavirus syndrome a separate diagnosis.
“It would be a disservice to make post-COVID something special,” he says, because ME/CFS patients wouldn’t share the benefits. “I don’t think there’s a nickel of difference between the two,” he adds.
Tompkins and several other experts explain how ME/CFS will affect long-haulers and the challenges of treating them in this article published at www.time.com.