Updated: Feb 15
Charlotte was a healthy, active 35-year-old teacher with a busy home and social life. She was a popular member of her local running club, and regularly spent weekends competing in fell races. So, little did she expect that within a few short weeks she'd become so tired she'd hardly be able to get out of bed, and would lose all enthusiasm for the life she once loved. Yet that's exactly what happened after she came down with a common or garden viral cold in the autumn of 1980,
As her cough and runny nose began to wane, Charlotte noticed that she was feeling unusually drained. Keen to get back to work and her normal life, she pushed through the fatigue for the rest of the week, But by the weekend she'd hit a wall, and spent most of it convalescing in bed. From then onwards, things quickly deteriorated.
The fog that spread through Charlotte's brain and her lack of energy began to make every task feel monumental. She couldn't go to work and couldn't be there for her 3 children in the way she'd like. Every day she had to prioritise what the most important things were to achieve with her severely limited energy reserves. As her old life slipped away, she began to fall into depression. Worse still, her GP said he was unable to find anything wrong. He eventually concluded it was all in her head and prescribed antidepressants.
Luckily for Charlotte, homeopathy does not need a diagnosis to prescribe on for any illness - only the symptoms you are experiencing. So, after a friend suggested she give homeopathy a try, Charlotte was gradually able to get her life back on track. Homeopathic treatment is always matched to the totality of each persons symptoms - whatever they may be - to bring about healing at the root cause level of a condition.
So, whilst Charlotte is fictitious, her story has been a very real one for countless people. Thankfully science has now caught up enough to recognise Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome and its constellation of associated symptoms. However, mainstream medicine still has difficulty diagnosing PVFS (there is no laboratory test) and remains unable to provide any permanent cure. Not a great prospect for a disease that can linger for untold years.
One Syndrome, Many Names
Perhaps because for a long time this syndrome was only vaguely understood, it has accumulated quite a collection of different names that are essentially interchangeable. The term post-viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS) makes a clear link to a viral origin, so tends to be used more when symptoms can be easily traced back to a viral infection. It is also known more simply as post-viral syndrome (PVS) or by its older acronym, ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). In the UK, chronic fatigue syndrome is also a popular term for the same condition.
Because there are still a lot of unknows, some of the available information is blurry. Sometimes ME is seen as a separate condition for example, as it may not always have its origins in a virus. Additionally, there are many similar conditions - such as fibromyalgia - that, as research continues, could all be found to belong to the same spectrum of disorders.
What Exactly is Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome?
I like the term PVFS because it describes the condition really clearly:
PVFS happens when a viral infection causes a set of symptoms that linger on, long after the original infection has cleared - that's the post-viral part.
The syndrome part means that its a collection of symptoms, and someone with that disease may display any number of these.
Since tiredness is a often the primary symptom of the syndrome, fatigue is included in the name.
There are some viruses in particular that are associated with causing PVFS in susceptible individuals. Various herpes viruses are common culprits, these are viruses that remain in the body post infection - usually latent, but sometimes reactivating:
Epstein-Barr (the virus that causes glandular fever),
Other viruses associated with PVFS include:
Common cold viruses such as those in the corona virus family - that usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses
Why some people suffer from PVFS after an infection, while others don't is unknown, but the evidence points to it being most common in women between 20-50 years old,
Some conditions that are very similar to PVFS and also poorly understood include Lyme disease (caused by the Borrelia bacterium) and fibromyalgia (the line between fibromyalgia and PVFS is extremely blurry, but in fibromyalgia issues with fatigue are usually secondary to debilitating muscle pain).
What are the Symptoms?
Tiredness can begin during recovery from the original viral illness, and severe, debilitating fatigue (both physical and mental/emotional) is the core symptom of the condition in the longer term. However, chronic fatigue is a syndrome which consists of any number of a collection of symptoms. These can include:
Permanent tiredness & extreme fatigue following any exertion
Brain fog - poor concentration and memory
Susceptibility to recurrent infections
Depression and anxiety
Dizziness, commonly on first standing up
Nausea, stomach aches, flatulence, loss of appetite and other gastro-intestinal issues
Insomnia/ waking in the night
Difficulty maintaining normal body temperature - e.g. cold extremities
Increased sensitivity to temperature fluctuations
Unexplained muscle/ joint pain
Shortness of breath and other respiratory issues
Chest pain and tightness
Heart palpitations and other cardiovascular problems
It's still not clear exactly what causes PVFS to occur in susceptible individuals. It is thought to have an immunological component which would explain why many sufferers experience repeated infections. It is also known that PVFS sufferers have impaired mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are often attacked by viruses, and since they are structures in our cells that release energy, that would explain why fatigue is so central to PVFS symptoms.
Dr Myhill, who has published 3 papers on the role of mitochondria in PVFS, also proposes that the lack of available energy to the heart in particular, causes many of the other symptoms of this syndrome. This includes more obviously heart-related symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations and difficulty with temperature control (due to poor circulation). But also shortness of breath (trying to compensate for the lack of oxygen being pumped around the body) and dizziness and brain fog (not enough blood getting to the brain). In fact, reduced blood flow from the heart would have a knock on effect on almost every organ of the body - including the digestive system, explaining why symptoms can also occur there.
Some people with PVFS recover after a length of time. Others go into remission, but with relapses during times of stress. In the most extreme cases the condition deteriorates over time into a chronic disability.
Could PVFS be Trying to Tell us Something?
In his book The Clinical Medicine Guide, A Holistic Perspective, Dr Stephen Gascoigne points out that PVFS very often affects the busiest people; hard workers that find it difficult to switch off. He proposes that this might be one reason why its more common in women - often juggling work responsibilities and the needs of the family with their own. He believes PVFS is an attempt by the body to get some much needed rest.
In homeopathy, we see the body as having its own intelligence. It tries to compensate for imbalances in our lives and symptoms can often speak of what needs to be healed on a deeper level.
My own experiences of people with PVFS bare out Dr Gascoigne's theory - they are often (but not always) prolific 'doers' - racing through life like shooting stars. Their symptoms enforce a period of just 'being' - a protracted convalescence. Forcibly bringing the issue to the patients attention.
This is in no way to apportion blame to PVFS patients; we all suffer from our different ailments, each speaking to us of how we are individually out of balance. The idea in homeopathy, is to recognise the body's cry for help and help address its root cause, rather than just carrying on as before and/or just band aiding the symptoms.
Long COVID - a type of PVFS?
Recent research suggests around one tenth of COVID-19 patients develop some level of Long COVID symptoms. The condition has also been called Post-COVID-19 Fatigue Syndrome and is conspicuously similar to PVFS.
Like PVFS, Long COVID or post-COVID-19 syndrome, first gained widespread recognition among support groups of sufferers and only later in scientific and medical communities. Also like PVFS, it is more common in women than men, is poorly understood and still lacks a precise definition.
The most common symptoms reported are fatigue and shortness of breath that last for months after a COVID-19 infection. Other persistent symptoms may include:
mental confusion and poor memory
smell and taste dysfunctions
cardiac issues and chest pains and palpitations
So, aside from the cough and the smell/taste issues, this shows complete overlap with typical PVFS symptoms. Thankfully, many Long COVID patients do usually recover -if gradually - with rest, holistic support and by slowly increasing their activity levels.
Can Homeopathy Help?
Long before the medical community caught on, homeopaths have been treating patients with Long COVID right from the get-go. That was possible because we don't treat a diagnosis, we treat the individual. As with PVFS, homeopaths don't require a named syndrome or newly developed drug for any patient's disease. What we always do, is treat the symptoms the person in front of us presents to us, with the homeopathic remedy we believe best matches them. This makes homeopathy a powerful tool for the resolution of this much misunderstood group of illnesses.
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