We know that around 200,000 are living with ME/CFS at any one time in the UK, and that most become ill between the ages of 30 and 50, but does age itself make a difference? Do people who are older when they first become unwell have a different type or pattern of disease than people who first become ill at a younger age?

An ME Research UK-funded study has been examining this aspect, with patients aged over 50 matched case-by-case by sex and duration of illness to a group of younger patients. The results  revealed that older people had more fatigue, more depression, and a poorer overall quality of life. But the most intriguing differences between the 2 groups were found in the measurements of autonomic nervous system function, including differences in heart rate variability, and left ventricular ejection times (the time interval from the opening to the closing of the aortic valve in the heart). Overall, there were distinct physiological and clinical differences between older and younger people with ME/CFS, even though they have had the illness for the same length of time (91–93 months).

The importance of these findings lies in the fact that a sizeable proportion of people with ME/CFS present with symptoms for the first time aged over 50, and a significant proportion are aged over 60. The combination of underlying ME/CFS disease mechanisms plus the normal physiological effects of ageing could well result in a proportionately greater disease impact, particularly on the cardiovascular system, in these people who are older when they first become ill.

An overview of these findings can be read in the Spring 2013 issue of Breakthrough Magazine (pages 8 and 9).

Reference: Is chronic fatigue syndrome in older patients a different disease? A clinical cohort study. Lewis I et al.  Eur J Clin Invest 2013; 43(3) :302-8