ME or Myalgic Encephalopathy is one of a few different names that are given to what is an illness of uncertain cause that affects thousands of people. It is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Post-viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS) and Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS). All types of people of all ages are affected and for many years much controversy surrounded ME as the whether it was in fact an illness at all. Patients suffer from severe and debilitating fatigue, painful muscles and joints, disturbed sleep, gastric disturbances, poor memory and concentration and the onset is usually linked to a viral infection, operation or an accident, although some suffer a slow steady onset.
In some patients the effects are minimal but for others lives are changed drastically. In the young school-life can be severely disrupted and for older patients employment can become impossible. Social/family life can become restricted and many are housebound or even bed-bound for months or years.
Any vigorous exercise such as running or biking can result in the patient being bed-bound and most patients focus on more mild exercising like walking, swimming, tai chi etc.
A study discovered that patients were getting the blood they needed to the muscles but for some reason they weren’t taking up the oxygen very quickly and it took longer for the oxygen levels to get back to normal after exercise.
It could be that the mitochondria in the cells which use oxygen to produce energy could be damaged. These mitochondria also would normally pump damaging free-radicals out of the cell which could interfere with muscle metabolism and cause pain.
Oxygen uptake into the cells would also normally neutralise lactate build-up created during exercise and in the patients in the study it took longer for the oxygen to neutralise the toxic build-up in the cells after exercise.
Another study found that in ME patients specifically that there was significantly lower blood volumes which could account for lower oxygen levels, on average a 20% reduction, which could be cause by the nervous system. In fact some doctors believe that ME may be caused by low oxygen levels. An additional theory is that the nervous system shuts down blood vessels when an ME patient is at rest and then fails to open them up sufficiently when you become active, which is a bad combination when the patient cannot sleep at night and then cannot fulfil any activities during the day.
If low oxygen levels are a root cause of ME then it is being researched at the moment as to whether increasing oxygen levels ie via home oxygen therapy would help to alleviate the symptoms of this disease. Many patients with other conditions such as COPD and Sleep Apnoea have discovered that by using oxygen for these other conditions it has also alleviated their ME symptoms as well. Some find that a 15minute session twice a day can help to nip the symptoms in the bud, others did not or found that longer or more frequent sessions were needed. Others find it helpful to have oxygen on board the air plane when travelling on holiday as before they had experienced increased symptoms whilst away on previous holidays. Patient’s with Sleep Apnoea have found that oxygen not only helped with their sleep but made them feel more energised and decreased the severity of their fatigue in the mornings and made the syndrome much easier to live with. It seems to vary from patient to patient as to if and how it helps, as for example some COPD patients find that their oxygen tanks and concentrators helped, whereas others found that only by switching machines to a CPAP machine did it help with their ME symptoms.
It seems from the evidence and patient feedback that there is a link and that increasing oxygen intake to increase blood oxygen levels does, in most cases help to alleviate or extinguish ME symptoms. However with the syndrome itself still unexplained and only a few studies having been carried out so far on this topic, much more research is needed to conclusively prove the link. Also as patients sometimes have a mixture of different inter-linking conditions and causes of their ME symptoms, different patients may respond differently so it may be a case of trial and error as to how you can increase your oxygen levels in a way that will work to alleviate your ME symptoms.