Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.)

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is more commonly referred to as ME :

- Myalgic means painful muscles;

- encephalo - refers to anything to do with the brain;

- and -myelitis means an inflammation or infection of the brain and spinal cord.


The name ME was first introduced in an editorial of the Lancet in May 1956. Although other names have come and gone, this particular name (and its description), has stood the test of time and is one that has survived the longest.

The name ME is still being used today. It is commonly used in the UK and other parts of Europe, and in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It is not used so much in the US (who prefer the term Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Chronic Fatigue & Immune Dysfunction Syndrome ).

This illness hasn't always been known as ME . Before the name ME came about, it was known in the US as Epidemic Neuromyaesthenia . And virally-induced ME used to be known as Atypical Poliomyelitis [ref 23]

Dropping The Word Benign

In fact, ME was initially known as Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in the UK. It was called benign because at the time, the illness was not thought to be very serious. But as time passed, medics realised that ME was actually a lot more serious than they had first thought, and so the word benign was dropped. By 1988, medics and clinicians had stopped using the word benign and just referred to it as ME .

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies ME as a 'disease of the nervous system' (under category G93.3) in its International Classification Of Diseases (ICD). Interestingly though, the WHO still includes the word benign in its classification of ME .

The Disagreement Over The '-myelitis' Part…

Nevertheless many people are not satisfied with the actual name, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME ) - or more specifically, its ending, '-myelitis'.

But this seems to be all down to a misunderstanding of ME and it's relationship to CFS …

'-myelitis' means an inflammation or infection of the brain and spinal cord. And indeed, there is proof that an inflammation or infection of the brain and spinal cord (or inflammation of the Central Nervous System) does exist in people with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) [ref 24].

The problem is that some people are arguing that most ME sufferers do not have this inflammation or infection of the brain and spinal cord.

The confusion lies in the definition: what exactly are they calling ME? And what are they calling CFS?

You see, people with CFS are being mistaken for suffering from ME.

But CFS is not ME!

And that's where the misunderstanding lies: the 'inflammation or infection of the brain and spinal cord' seems to be what helps to differentiate ME from other types of CFS …

You see, ME is believed to be a 'subgroup' of the 'umbrella' illness, ME/CFS. But because it is common for the terms ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to be used interchangeably, people have come to believe they are one and the same.

This is incorrect. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is different - it has a wider definition which includes subgroups of illnesses (one of which is ME). And not all CFS sufferers necessarily experience an inflammation or infection of the brain and spinal cord.

So in essence, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) does exist [ref 24], and its name does seem to be fitting. But it's important to distinguish it as a subgroup of the 'wider' illness ME/CFS because it describes only a small percentage of many ME/CFS sufferers.

You can find out more about the terms 'ME/CFS' & 'ICD-CFS' here…



Category: Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or M.E.

Back to top: Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis