Post Exertional Malaise

As a parent and carer for a teen with chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), I was often puzzled by how wiped out he would become after we’d been to a medical appointment, tried to keep up with his studies or sat up for a few hours when we visited friends and family. I now know he was being affected by post exertional malaise (PEM).

Imagine the simple act of taking a short walk or engaging in a brief conversation leaving you utterly drained, your body and mind feeling as though they’ve been pushed to their limits. This is the reality for many experiencing PEM. What sets PEM apart is not just the fatigue itself, but the worsening of a myriad of symptoms, including brain fog, pain, and flu-like malaise.  For some, PEM can last for hours, days or even weeks after the exertion.

While there is a lot of research going on to understand the causes of PEM, there is not yet any treatment available through western medicine. I know for my son, lifestyle change made a huge improvement to his overall health, as well as to the frequency and duration of PEM. The approach that helped him was focusing on nutrition, sleep and stress management, while carefully pacing his physical activity as his energy levels were rebuilding.

The foundation for his recovery included:

  • Healing and sealing his gut through nutrient dense, gentle to the gut, whole foods;
  • Stress management exercises – mindfulness and meditation;
  • Good sleep hygiene, and prioritising sleep.

If you have CFS/ME or you are caring for someone with it, being aware of PEM will help you understand that bouts may follow physical or mental activity. Keeping within the limits of what is manageable is key.

Taking steps to support your body through a healthy lifestyle can also lead to overall improvement – it really is worth the effort. You don’t have to do it on your own; this website has lots of tools and ideas of how to get started (see below), and coaching services can help you make the changes that can change your life.  To learn more about coaching, click here.