Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or What? An Operational Definition

Diagnostics (Basel). 2018 Sep 8;8(3):64. doi: 10.3390/diagnostics8030064.


Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), identified as a new clinical entity with distinctive features in 1956, was originally considered as a neuromuscular disease. In 1988 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the ill-defined concept of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). As predicted, CFS, unjustly considered to be a synonym for ME, pushed ME to the background. To develop effective therapies for of ME and CFS, it is essential to investigate patients with ME specifically. For that reason, an operational definition of ME is indispensable. This article proposes an operational definition based on the most recent formal definitions and symptoms observed in ME. ME is a multi-systemic illness, which (1) often has a sudden onset, in most cases a respiratory and/or gastro-intestinal infection, but a gradual or more dramatic onset is also possible; (2) has an epidemic and an endemic form; (3) has an unique clinical pattern deviating from other post-viral states; (4) is distinguished by muscle fatigability/prolonged muscle weakness after trivial exertion; (5) is accompanied by symptoms relating to neurological disturbance, especially of cognitive, autonomic, and sensory functions; (6) can be accompanied by symptoms associated with cardiac and other systems; (7) is characterized by fluctuation of symptoms (within and between "episodes"); (8) has a prolonged relapsing course; and (9) has a tendency to become chronic. In conclusion, a discriminative definition for ME contains four mandatory elements: (1) muscle fatigability/post-exertional muscle weakness lasting for days; (2) operational criteria for "neurological disturbance, especially of cognitive, autonomic and sensory functions"; (3) fluctuation of symptoms; and (4) a prolonged relapsing course. This tentative definition of ME justifies the qualification "neuromuscular disease".

Keywords: chronic fatigue syndrome; diagnosis; myalgic encephalomyelitis; neurological disorders; neuromuscular.