The illness we now know as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is not a new illness. M.E. is thought to have existed for centuries.
Earlier names for M.E. were ‘atypical multiple sclerosis’ and ‘atypical polio.’ Many early outbreaks of M.E. were also individually named for their locations and so we also have outbreaks known as Tapanui flu in New Zealand, Akureyri or Icelandic disease in Iceland, Royal Free Disease in the UK, and so on
In 1956 the name Myalgic Encephalomyelitis was created.
The term was invented jointly by Dr A Melvin Ramsay who coined this name in relation to the Royal Free Hospital epidemics that occurred in London in 1955 - 1957 and by Dr John Richardson who observed the same type of illness in his rural practice in Newcastle-upon-Tyne area during the same period. It was obvious to these physicians that they were dealing with the consequences of an epidemic and endemic infectious neurological disease.
The term Myalgic Encephalomyelitis means: My = muscle, Algic = pain, Encephalo = brain, Mye = spinal cord, Itis = inflammation.
As M.E. expert Dr Byron Hyde writes:
The reason why these physicians were so sure that they were dealing with an inflammatory illness of the brain is that they examined patients in both epidemic and endemic situations with this curious diffuse brain injury. In the epidemic situation with patients falling acutely ill and in some cases dying, autopsies were performed and the diffuse inflammatory brain changes are on record (2006, [Online]).
In 1957, the Wallis description of M.E. was created. In 1959 Sir Donald Acheson (a former UK Chief Medical Officer) conducted a major review of M.E. In 1962 the distinguished neurologist Lord Brain included M.E. in the standard textbook of neurology. In recognition of the large body of compelling research that was available, M.E. was formally classified as an organic disease of the central nervous system in the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases in 1969. In 1978 the Royal Society of Medicine held a symposium on Myalgic Encephalomyelitis at which M.E. was accepted as a distinct entity. The symposium proceedings were published in The Postgraduate Medical Journal later that same year. The Ramsay case description of M.E. was published in 1981.
Since 1956 the term Myalgic Encephalomyelitis has been used to describe the illness in the UK, Europe Canada and Australasia. This term has stood the test of time for more than 50 years. The recorded medical history of M.E. as a debilitating organic neurological illness affecting children and adults is substantial; it spans over 70 years and has been published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals all over the world.
As Professor Malcolm Hooper explains:
The term Myalgic Encephalomyelitis has been included by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in their International Classification of Diseases (ICD), since 1969. The current version ICD-10 lists M.E. under G.93.3 - neurological conditions. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that this recognition emerged from meticulous clinical observation and examination (2006, [Online]).
A review of early M.E. outbreaks found that clinical symptoms were consistent in over sixty recorded epidemics spread all over the world. It has also been confirmed that the epidemic cases of M.E., and the sporadic cases of M.E. each represented the same illness – and that modern day M.E. patients are also suffering with this same illness which was first documented in the 1930s. The damage to the brain indicted by the name ‘Myalgic Encephalomyelitis’ also continues to be documented in modern cases of M.E.
However, of course this damage is NOT seen in all those with post-viral fatigue syndromes and so on who merely qualify for a (mis)diagnosis of 'CFS.' 'CFS' and M.E. are NOT the same and the vast majority of those given a 'CFS' misdiagnosis do NOT have M.E. (nor any other distinct neurological disease.)
The term M.E. is medically and diagnostically correct, but it is of course only correct when it is applied to people who actually have M.E. and fit this very distinct and unique description and definition of a well-defined scientifically measurable neurological disease.
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is characterised by post encephalitic damage to the brain stem; a nerve centre through which many spinal nerve tracts connect with higher centres in the brain in order to control all vital bodily functions. This is always damaged in M.E. – hence the name Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.
To read or download an extended and fully referenced version of the above text, please see the What is M.E.? page.
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