Immune Dysfunction

People with ME/CFS experience a range of immune symptoms.

The immune system is complicated, containing many different kinds of cells that make many different kinds of chemical signals to talk to each other. Hundreds of studies have found evidence that in people with ME/CFS, the immune system is chronically activated, as if it is fighting something, and that parts of the immune system are exhausted by the fight.

Prof A L Komaroff MD, Harvard Health Blog, 2019

Infection is the most common trigger for the development of ME/CFS. Numerous studies have found evidence of disordered immune function in people with ME/CFS.

Immune function extends far beyond the symptoms commonly listed as 'immune' and affects all parts of the body, including the brain, and interacts with all other systems, including the nervous and the endocrine systems.

Common immune symptoms

  • Recurrent or persistent sore throat
  • Tender or enlarged lymph nodes
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Development of new allergies or worsening of existing allergies
  • Feeling that the brain is 'on fire' (raised intracranial temperature)

Some underlying immune problems in ME/CFS

Although these symptoms are common to many people with ME/CFS, research and patient experience indicate a variety of underlying immune dysfunctions. Some people seem prone to catching infections, while others rarely develop a cold or flu. Some people tolerate vaccinations, while for others, vaccinations trigger significant, long-term worsening of all symptoms.

Management and treatment

Careful management of rest and activity, known as pacing, will reduce the risk of exacerbating immune symptoms. Exceeding the available energy reserve will lead to post-exertional malaise (PEM). The onset of PEM may be delayed and recovery may be prolonged.

Conventional treatments and management strategies for reducing inflammation may ease immune and other symptoms.

Antioxidants from the diet or as supplements may reduce unwanted inflammatory responses that may result from the impact of oxidative stress on the immune system.

Given the individual variation in immune function, nutritional supplements should be trialled with caution, introducing only one at a time and beginning with a low dose.

Last edited: 10 December, 2020