CDC: Exercise Can Make Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Worse : Shots - Health News The Centers for Disease Control has revised recommendations for treating ME/CFS and now says that vigorous exercise can make symptoms worse. Patient advocates say it's a huge victory.
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For People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, More Exercise Isn't Better

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For People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, More Exercise Isn't Better

For People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, More Exercise Isn't Better

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/554369327/554994460" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A new study has found that most skin moisturizers are labeled incorrectly. We'll hear about that, but first, there are new guidelines for treating chronic fatigue syndrome, or MECFS. At least a million people in the U.S. are affected by this disorder, but for years, patients have been giving - given conflicting advice about how to treat their symptoms. Well, now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued new guidelines for patients, and here's NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: When Julie Rehmeyer was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome a decade ago, she had a lot of trouble getting help from her doctor.

JULIE REHMEYER: He had no tests, no treatments, no other doctors to recommend, nothing.

DOUCLEFF: So Rehmeyer, who's a science writer, started researching the disease herself. She went straight to the CDC website and was surprised to find that exercise could help. There were even details about which exercises to do and how many reps for each.

REHMEYER: I love exercise. When I first found myself just astonishingly tired, I thought, OK, somehow I've gotten out of shape. So building up my exercise was my very first strategy for dealing with the illness.

DOUCLEFF: But the strategy didn't work. In fact, it backfired, and she got worse. Then one day she tried to go to the grocery store, and...

REHMEYER: By the time I got home, I was just exhausted. And that night I couldn't even lift my spoon to my mouth.

DOUCLEFF: When you talk to people with chronic fatigue syndrome and doctors that treat them, you hear stories like Rehmeyer's over and over again. Dr. Nancy Klimas has studied the disease for 30 years at Nova Southeastern University in Miami. She says the problem stems from a longstanding misperception, a damaging misperception...

NANCY KLIMAS: That you could exercise yourself out of this illness. That's just not true.

DOUCLEFF: In fact, Klimas says, the opposite is typically true.

KLIMAS: While in most chronic conditions if you exercise you feel better, in this condition if you exercise you get worse. That's one of the signatures, if you would, of this illness.

DOUCLEFF: But still, Klimas says, health websites and even some health authorities continue to recommend controversial exercise programs. Just this past week, the National Health Service in the U.K. announced that it's reviewing its recommendations.

KLIMAS: Those guidelines have hurt a lot of people, and they were - they were implemented all around the world. You know, one single study in England created a guideline that was so harmful.

DOUCLEFF: Now, people shouldn't swing all the way over into the other direction, Klimas says, and avoid all exercise altogether, but they do need to be very, very careful and ideally have the help from a doctor. Jennifer McQuiston, a spokesperson with the CDC, says that's the advice the agency is trying to emphasize with their new guidelines.

JENNIFER MCQUISTON: So one of the really important parts of our website revision was really emphasizing that patients need to be working very carefully with a doctor, and preferably one who understands MECFS and that whatever program they decide to do needs to be tailored to them and their specific situation.

DOUCLEFF: Because with chronic fatigue syndrome, a one-size-fits-all approach can do you harm, she says, especially when it comes to exercise. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.

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