Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why it's so hard to tell what's causing an ME/CFS crash

I have a very hard time determining what's causing a crash.  I often go back and forth between two possibilities.  (1) One is that I caught a simple cold virus or flu virus and my weakened immune system is having a difficult time clearing it.  (2) The other possibility is that the crash is more of a normal ME/CFS cycle, where existing chronic viral infections (opportunistic infections that take advantage of a compromised immune system, like EBV, HHV6, CMV, enteroviruses, etc.) suddenly "rally." Sometimes the "rally" can be brought on by stress or overexertion or anything that can further weaken the immune system.

I'm not excluding other possible causes of crashes, but those two seem most likely in my case.

A normal person who doesn't have ME/CFS might think, "we all know what a cold or flu virus feels like.  Can't you tell if you feel like you have a cold or a flu?"  The answer is "no" because one's immune system changes when he/she contracts ME/CFS.  It reacts differently to pathogens -- even ordinary cold and flu viruses. This change is often described as an imbalance between two sides of the immune system: Th1 and Th2.  The famous ME/CFS doctor Cheney describes the problem (as transcribed by one of Dr. Cheney's patients, with permission):

Researchers have demonstrated that most CFIDS patients end up stuck in Th2 mode. This has several consequences. When the Th2 system activates, it blocks the Th1 system. This suppresses the Th1 weapons, particularly NK function. Accordingly, there is also an increase in the Th2 weapons - the white cells and antibodies. Most notable is increased antibody production. Dr. Cheney said that if you measure antibodies to anything a CFIDS patient has ever been exposed to, they will very likely be elevated.... 
Cheney notes that other problems ensue. Patients get into trouble on both sides: they overreact to things on the right side and under-react to those on the left. When they are Th2 activated, they no longer have the defense mechanisms to keep dormant all the things they caught in the past. They cannot suppress or control them anymore, and the EBV, chlamydia pneumonia, CMV, etc. reactivate. The yeast also begins to appear. 
The only defense against being eaten alive at this point is RNase L....RNase-L cannot kill any of these things. It only stops them from reproducing. According to Cheney, "It's a line in the sand saying 'No more replication', and it waits for Th1 to come and kill them. But Th1 never comes. RNase L sits there and grinds away, possibly going up and down as the pathogens activate and reactivate. But they never get wiped out. RNase L holds the line, waiting for the cavalry that never arrives.

The Th1 side of the immune system is the side of the immune system responsible for, among other things, attacking and clearing pathogens that are "intra-cellular"--that live and replicate inside human cells. The Th1 immune cells know how to find and destroy viruses that hide inside cells.  Even ordinary cold and flu viruses fall into the this category of intra-cellular that replicate inside cells, meaning a person with a Th2 dominant immune system would have a harder time clearing these viruses.

When a Th2 dominant PWME contracts a cold or flu virus, the virus still triggers the immune system. But it triggers the immune system in a new and different way.  Other aspects of the immune system try to compensate for the deficient Th1 response.  Th2 is turned on (further) when Th1 should be turned on.  So when a Th2 dominant ME/CFS patient contracts a new virus, we don't feel the same as when a normal person encounters a new virus.  Our immune systems becomes triggered, but in all the wrong ways.  These "wrong ways" make us feel horrible - but not "horrible" in the same way a normal person feels when they get a cold or flu.  It's much different.  And it lasts longer.  It comes with neuorologial symptoms like brain fog, muscle twitches, numbness, and a long list of other oddball symptoms.

Because of this, I often can't distinguish between the two types of crashes I described in my first paragraph.  They essentially feel the same -- with the possible exception that a cold or flu- triggered crash might bring more typical symptoms like sore throat, and runny nose, in addition to the "oddball" symptoms.  On the other hand, I can't rule out that a "rally" type crash might also bring on those symptoms.

Sometimes I wonder if all of the crashes I've ever had fall into only one of the two categories.  I have this pet theory that I wonder about sometimes.  Maybe all of the ME/CFS crashes that I've ever had are due to me encountering run-of-the-mill every-day viruses that my weak immune system struggles to neutralize. We all (healthy and sick people) people encounter viruses nearly every day, but a healthy person's immune systems manages to clear most of these viruses without the person every feeling symptomatic. It's only the occasional, more robust virus that makes the person feel symptomatic.  It's possible that having ME/CFS--at least my version of it--is simply a state of having my immune system constantly triggered in a defective way.

(For many of my ME/CFS friends who react to mold or other environmental triggers, it's essentially the same thing except the catalyst that triggers their immune systems is different.  Rather than being viral, it's environmental.)

The only way I could test this theory would be spend time in a hermetically sealed bubble like the famous Seinfeld "bubble boy."  My suspicion is that if I ever spent time in an environment free of pathogen exposure, I'd feel great.  Since that's obviously not realistic, I'll just have to wonder...

Friday, May 1, 2015

April - my worse month in two years

I just calculated my daily health chart average for the month of April and it was my lowest daily average for any month since May, 2013.  The difference between April's average and all other averages of the past 12 months was enormous.

I'm still trying to determine the cause of this crash: is it a bug or could the stress of a recent arbitration have weakened by immune system?  Or a combination of both?  

I continue to have symptoms of a regular cold, like a cough and nasal congestion, but it's difficult to tell if that's the root of the crash or more symptoms of it.  Since coming down with ME/CFS, my immune system reacts differently to colds.  In my pre-ME days, cold symptoms were limited to...the usual cold symptoms.  They tended to be localized, i.e. in my sinuses or lungs.  But now, a cold seems to trigger my dysfunctional immune system in funny ways.  Inflammation runs rampant.  I get brain fog, achy kidneys, very swollen lymph nodes, sleep disturbances, and many other problems. That's why, after your system goes out of whack with ME/CFS, it's very difficult to determine what's going on when you're crashing.

I'm holding out hope that this is just a particularly bad cold, and not a more significant set back.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

New doctor thinks it's Lyme... I'm not so sure

Part 1

                                                                             Part 2

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Update On Last Post

I'm still trying to figure out if I'm dealing with a run of the mill virus or some kind of more serious setback. On Thursday a nasty sore throat set in. I was thrilled. This made it much more likely that I'm dealing with a  run-of-the-mill pathogen  - one I might defeat in a week or two. 

I went to a walk-in clinic on Friday and the doctor swabbed my throat. Although the swab came back negative for strep, she said it still looked like strep from her visual observation and based on my other symptoms.  So she prescribed me penicillin.  (*sigh*) Antibiotics again. But what are my alternatives? I can't just let strep go unchecked. 

She wanted to prescribe me Prednisone for two days as well, but after I explained some of my blood test results that indicate compromised immunity (low NKC function, low CD57, low IGG subclass 3) she said I probably shouldn't take the Prednisone. I filled the prescription anyway...just in case I need it some day. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Possible relapse - very frustrating

I keep a daily rating of my overall health, then I tabulate an average at the end of each month to track my progress.  March, 2015, was my best health month since I first became ill in the Summer of 2011. Even before I tabulated the average, I could tell March was going to be a blockbuster. I only had one or two days in the month when I didn't feel like I could accomplish about 90% of the things I needed to do (work, errands, child care) and maybe 80% of the things I wanted to do. Short of any cardiovascular exercise (which still induces a crash), I was, if not exactly "living large," living upper-medium.  

As March continued, I started wondering if I should consider myself "in remission."  I wasn't close to my pre-ME/CFS self, but I was wondering if I should nonetheless consider myself more-or-less in the category of "regular people."  I still regularly experienced symptoms like "air-hunger," swollen lymph nodes, and random inflammation, usually in the area of my kidneys and pelvic floor, and many others.  But over time, these symptoms had reduced in severity to the point where I felt I could live with them without too great of a reduction in quality of life. March was the pinnacle of this.

So naturally I went nuts during the month of March, despite my better judgement.  I started drinking coffee on a daily basis and running around doing errand after errand like I'd never heard of ME/CFS.  "What's this Myalgic Whatchamacallit you speak of?"  I let myself work later and later hours.  I even worked a weekend, despite reservations in the back of my mind.  It's easy to say now, "I should have known better not to push it so hard." But then again, as I improve, how will I know what my new limits are unless I test them?  Plus, who has the discipline not to fall back into old habits, i.e., being a regular person?  If you do, you're stronger-willed than me.  

On Friday, April 2, body-wide inflammation swept over me and I knew it was something significant.  It's only been 5 and a half days since then, so maybe it's too early to call it a relapse.  Sunday was a so-so day.  And even in my current state, I'm more functional than many patients.  It's nonetheless disappointing.  I keep holding out hope that this is just a "bug" (sick on sick), but it doesn't feel like it.  Unlike with a typical viral infection, the symptoms aren't localized to any particular area of my body.  They are everywhere: brain fog, swollen nodes, shortness of breath, kidneys inflamed, gums inflamed, cold hands and feet, weakness, pain in pelvic floor muscles.

Another possible explanation for this downturn is that I recently started experimenting with eliminating certain supplements and prescriptions from my daily routine.  So far I've cut out OraKidney, potassium, PS Complex, Valacyclovir, and B-complex With Metafolin.  I also cut Vitamin D-3 down from 10,000 IU per day to 5,000.  I cut back on Testosterone injections too because I thought it might be contributing to pain in my pelvic floor muscles.  Just to be safe, I'm going to start going back on those supplements until I get this figured out.  

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out...

In the meantime, I got a bunch of test results back from my new doctor.  I owe this blog an update on those results too...coming soon.  Short version: CD57 (a type of Natural Killer Cells) is pathetically low.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Out of the blue I received the email below from my brother today.  It assesses my progress with ME/CFS.  Although it was meant to be funny (and it is), it is actually surprisingly accurate.

I came up with another barometer in assessing your progress with CFS. It assumes that there is negative correlation between the number of blogs you post and how you are generally feeling/progressing. For example, the higher # of blogs you post, the worse you feel over a given period of time. This assumption follows the belief that the more you are crashing, the more you are thinking about CFS and the more you are blogging about CFS. The opposite relationship should hold true as well. The less you are crashing, the less you are thinking about CFS and the less you are blogging about CFS.  
The obvious problem with this metric is that you have likely gotten tired of blogging over time regardless of how you are feeling. Therefore, the blogs naturally have become more infrequent with the passage of time. This measure ignores that issue and should only be referred to for general trends. Furthermore, it is not a linear relationship, i.e., ½ the amount of blogs does not mean that you are feeling 2X as good as baseline. 
Below are the # of blogs per year (please note I have not broken down monthly yet and 2011 and 2015 I have excluded because they are stub years): 
2012    139 blogs 
2013    75 blogs 
2014    43 blogs  
Two other contributing factors to above. 1) It was a slow day at work 2) I was inspired by reading some of your blog today. If one thing is clear, you want hard numbers and facts to back up CFS diagnosis, treatments and progress.  
Without knowing anything about CFS, this is the best I could come up with. The good news is my analysis reveals that you are indeed feeling better.

I have to say, his analysis is pretty accurate.  I do blog more when I'm feeling worse--up to a point. There's a point where I feel too sick to even blog, but I'm one of the lucky patients who rarely crosses that threshold.  And yes, I'm giving this the "Tracking" tag -- it's as good a measure as any other.

It also reminds me how lucky I am to have family members who generally "get it" and don't think ME/CFS is a joke. So many patients don't have that.

I'm anxiously awaiting the promised monthly breakdowns!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wait, now I can drink coffee?

This disease is so odd, the way it evolves over time.  For the first three years of ME/CFS, I would crash if I drank coffee.  Even decaf.  And believe you me, I tried many many times, such is my love of coffee.  I kept thinking, "oh, the last time was a fluke.  I just happened to crash right after drinking coffee  It will be different this time."  It took about 8 to 10 experiments before I finally accepted that I couldn't drink coffee.

Recently, I've tried it again, starting with decaf, and all of a sudden I can drink it again without crashing.  I don't know if that means I should, but I just can't emphasize enough how nice it is to know that I can if I want... at least occasionally.

On the bad side of things, that aching in my kidneys that had gone away for so long is starting to come back again.

That's how it seems to go with ME/CFS for me ever since I got it.  One issue will resolve itself, but another will arise.  Often it feels like a zero sum game.