An international expert in chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia is visiting Nelson next week to talk about how the debilitation conditions can be managed.
Dr Charles Lapp has spent more than 25 years studying, treating and researching treatment for chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.
Nelson GP Janice Jolly said while it was “not uncommon” to see people with the conditions in general practice, she understood it from a different perspective as her husband Ken had lived with chronic fatigue for more than 30 years.
He was diagnosed with glandular fever while at university and despite recovering, he continued to fall sick. When he first saw a specialist, he was told that while it was clear he was unwell, the specialist had no idea what was wrong with him.
“Chronic fatigue syndrome didn’t exist back then, so we never knew what was wrong, just every now and again he would get really sick again,” Jolly said.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 people in New Zealand suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome and between three to five percent of the country’s population suffer from fibromyalgia.
There was no cure for either condition but the symptoms could be managed with medication and other treatment.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), or myalgic encephalopathy, was characterised by many symptoms and left people exhausted after minimal activity.
Jolly said tiredness was the most common symptom that presented in general practice but the exhaustion associated with chronic fatigue syndrome was more like having a “bad case of the flu”.
“Everybody is tired, that doesn’t meant they have chronic fatigue syndrome.”
“If you ran a marathon you are going to be exhausted, for them maybe walking to the letterbox would make them exhausted.”
The condition often followed an infection, viral illness or a period of physical or emotional stress.
“It seems like their immune system is hyped up, so often they will have sore throats or glands, aches and pains, like their immune system is trying to fight something that has gone.”
While fibromyalgia, a form of arthritis, was diagnosed by widespread muscle and joint pain, stiffness and fatigue.
Jolly said research showed that more brain activity occurred in fibromyalgia sufferers when they felt pain.
“The pain response is hyped up, they are not just being wimpy, their brain is activated a lot more.”
Jolly said people often experienced both conditions and they shared many common symptoms.
There was no test for either condition so diagnosis was based on the presence of symptoms, which was sometimes difficult.
Jolly said Lapp was well recognised around the world and his talk would be beneficial for those who suffered from CFS or fibromyalgia, their families as well as medical staff.
He will speak in Nelson about managing the conditions and his latest research findings.
The talk has been organised by the Associated New Zealand Myalgic Encephalopathy Society along with the Nelson Bays Myalgic Encephalopathy/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Support Group.