Dr. Martina Melzer, published: 01/21/2023, updated: 05/02/2023
Why do I list not only ME/CFS on my website, but also syndromes like those in this text? Because in the context
of what I have learned and researched, I have come to the conclusion: There are a lot of similarities. From my point of view, there are similarities in causes, symptoms, potential disease
mechanisms - and recovery.
Important: I do not want to encourage anyone here to turn their back on the conventional medical view of these syndromes and illnesses. There are sometimes good treatment approaches that are based on scientific data and can be very helpful. I see my view, which I share here, rather as a supplement to broaden one's horizons, to become open to a mind-body approach, a holistic approach that does not manage these syndromes but can potentially heal them.
Moreover, I am only addressing the autonomic nervous system here in relation to recovery, and not the immune system as well, because to the best of my knowledge, the former plays a superior role. But both systems are in close exchange, as are the endocrine and cardiovascular systems. What triggers the syndromes first - a misguided nervous system, a brain in danger mode, or a dysfunctional immune system - I don't know. The question is: does it matter? Or is it more important to primarily balance the system and organ that regulate all other systems and control the function of the internal organs?
One more thing: I often talk about a holistic approach to therapy. What I roughly mean by that are the recovery strategies on my website: Gaining knowledge, the right mindset, braintraining, inner work, lifestyle changes.
Definition: Anyone who has symptoms for more than four weeks after the acute illness phase of a SARS-CoV-2 infection is said to have long covid. If
symptoms persist for more than three months, doctors call it post-covid syndrome.
Typical symptoms: fatigue, concentration and thinking problems, headaches, muscle and/or joint pain, sleep disturbances, muscle weakness, hair loss, circulatory problems, altered sense of smell and taste, shortness of breath. Excessive physical, emotional or mental activity worsens the condition (as in ME/CFS).
My view: There are certainly various reasons why people do not get back on their feet after Covid-19 or take a long time to do so. Those who have been in intensive care for a long time, for example, take much longer to recover. Others have suffered damage to their lungs, heart or other organs from the infection, have mini blood clots. And then there are people who develop post-viral fatigue syndrome after an infection. And at least in those, there's very likely a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system that's stuck in survival mode. Through a holistic approach to therapy, the syndrome can be cured, according to everything I've learned. Recovery is possible!
Definition: It is controversial among doctors and scientists whether chronic Lyme disease exists. But the fact is that some people don't get back
on their feet after Lyme disease - even if they've been treated with antibiotics.
Typical symptoms: fatigue, joint pain, concentration problems, muscle pain, brainfog, circulatory problems.
My view: As with other syndromes triggered by infections, there is most likely a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system. It is stuck in survival mode. A holistic approach, with which the inner balance can be restored, can significantly improve or cure chronic Lyme disease.
Definition: The abbreviation POTS stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. POTS is a condition called dysautonomia, which is a
malfunction of the autonomic nervous system. There are different forms of this disorder.
Typical symptoms: The most characteristic symptom is palpitations when standing or changing position. However, lack of energy, headache, brainfog, fatigue, muscle weakness, chest pain, general feeling of weakness, dizziness, fainting, tremors, bluish discolored feet or legs, and gastrointestinal problems also occur.
My view: POTS is a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system, this is also recognized by traditional western medicine. From my point of view, POTS is an expression of a nervous system in constant survival mode. The body simply cannot find its balance, the nervous, hormonal, cardiovascular and immune systems are out of balance. How fast or slow our heart beats at rest and when it is challenged without excessive stress is regulated primarily by a part of the vagus nerve. Under stress, in the sense of fight or flight, the sympathetic nervous system takes over. Once the danger is over, the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus, takes over again. In POTS, this interplay is disturbed. In my view, this dysautonomia can be remedied or at least significantly improved by a holistic approach.
Definition: Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome characterized by pain occurring over a large area in various parts of the body.
Typical symptoms: Pain can occur in the arms, legs, back, chest, abdomen, spine, neck, and head. They can burn, sting, tingle, pinch, feel like aching limbs. In addition to chronic pain, there are often sleep problems, fatigue and cognitive impairment.
My view: a dysregulated autonomic nervous system probably also plays a central role in fibromyalgia syndrome, as does an increased sensitivity of the brain to interpret all kinds of stimuli as danger - including bodily sensations. Those who manage to bring the brain and autonomic nervous system out of survival mode and evaluate pain differently can overcome fibromyalgia, or at least improve it significantly.
Definition: In irritable bowel syndrome, according to current knowledge, the interaction between the autonomic nervous system and the intestinal
nervous system is disturbed - the gut-brain axis is out of balance. Some scientists thus distinguish irritable bowel syndrome from the numerous food intolerances that also trigger irritable bowel
symptoms. But this view is certainly not shared by all researchers (as always). There are different subtypes in which constipation, diarrhea or flatulence are the main symptoms.
Typical symptoms: Depending on the subtype, constipation, diarrhea, feeling of incomplete bowel emptying, bloating, flatulence, abdominal cramps, fatigue, headaches, mood swings.
My view: As with the other syndromes, IBS is an expression of a maladaptive nervous system that is stuck in survival mode, thus upsetting gastrointestinal activity. The brain perceives the body sensations as danger signals. The same holistic approach as for the other syndromes helps. And, of course, an adjusted diet for a time is useful to quiet the gut.
Definition: In mast cell activation syndrome, there is a chronic or recurrent activation of mast cells that, among other things, trigger allergic
reactions throughout the body. It can even lead to allergic shock. There are different forms of MCAS.
Typical symptoms: hives, headaches, abdominal cramps, skin rashes, itching, diarrhea, breathing problems, significant drop in blood pressure with dizziness up to fainting, palpitations, swelling on the skin, fatigue.
My view: There is no question that anti-allergic medications are useful and necessary in MCAS. However, many people with MCAS also have dysautonomia - a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Apparently, for example, high sympathetic activity can activate mast cells - which brings us back to the topic. Nervous system and brain in survival mode mess up all other body systems. If we create an inner balance again, the immune system also calms down.
Definition: Small fiber neuropathy is considered a disease of the peripheral nervous system, the autonomic nervous system is also frequently
affected. Scientists and researchers do not fully agree whether small nerve fibers that end in the skin are permanently damaged or "only" function in a limited way. Nerve fibers of the somatic
nervous system (voluntary functions) and/or the autonomic nervous system (involuntary functions) may be affected.
Typical symptoms: nerve pain, burning, tingling, formication, cardiovascular problems, digestive problems, disturbed temperature sensation, visual disturbances.
My view: Since SFN is probably at least associated with autonomic nervous system dysfunction, and since people also recover from the nerve pain they have as part of their syndromes, SFN should at least improve significantly with a holistic approach. Even studies show that recovery from small fiber neuropathy is possible.
Definition: An anxiety disorder exists when one is excessively fearful of things and situations that pose no real danger. For example, facing an
exam, contact with other people, confined spaces, fear of not being good enough, failing, not meeting expectations. There are different types of anxiety disorders.
Typical symptoms: racing heart, trembling, sweating, freezing, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, worry, tension, gastrointestinal problems, concentration problems, restlessness, urge to move, avoidance behavior.
My view: What if anxiety disorder is not described as a mental illness, but as a learned protective mechanism? Anxiety is an innate and survival emotion that warns us of danger and drives us to seek safety. We are also afraid of not being good enough, of being rejected, of not being loved. During evolution, this made sense because in the past we wouldn't have survived without the group. That's in all of us. But today the world is a different place. Our fears today are not appropriate in the vast majority of cases. We acquired them in childhood. If our parents punished us for something, rejected us, criticized us, it threatened us. We still carry that around with us as adults. By retraining these learned fear nerve networks in the brain and gaining a sense of safety (controlled by the autonomic nervous system), we can quiet the excessive fear. Psychotherapy and possibly other conventional medical therapies are strongly recommended depending on the severity of the anxiety disorder.
Definition: Depression is associated with persistent depressed mood, sadness, listlessness, and negative thoughts. One finds it difficult to cope
with everyday life. Depression is not the same as temporary mood swings, everyone has that.
Typical symptoms: depressed mood, sadness, lack of interest, lack of drive, concentration problems, sleep disturbances, joylessness, exhaustion, increased or decreased appetite, feelings of guilt, hopelessness, decreased self-esteem, restlessness, chronic pain, palpitations, gastrointestinal problems.
My view: I ask the same question here as I do with anxiety disorders. What if depression was not seen as a mental illness, but as a learned protective mechanism of the body? What if the listlessness, sadness, exhaustion simply wants to protect us from the world? To make us retreat to where we feel safe. Because the world is too threatening, because we are overwhelmed with it. According to my findings, depression can be seen as a biological protective mechanism, as an autonomic nervous system in survival mode, in energy-saving mode. A brain that interprets everything possible as danger. Depression can also serve to suppress deeper emotions like anger or real grief, it is driven by shame, itself a blocking emotion, to protect an underlying deep wound or to let the anger out. With the help of a good psychotherapist and other appropriate holistic methods, depression can also be overcome in many cases. Depending on the severity of the depression, there are other conventional therapies that should definitely be sought.
Definition: PTSD, like cPTSD, is considered a mental illness that occurs as a result of trauma.
Typical symptoms: flashbacks, hypervigilance (jumpiness, alarm mode), avoidance behaviors, sleep disturbances, exhaustion, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, nightmares, dissociation (splitting off from feelings, body, self, world), guilt, shame, chronic pain, trembling, sweating, freezing, cardiac arrhythmias, problems with emotion regulation, disturbed self-awareness and self-care, depressed mood.
My view: In my view, post-traumatic stress disorder, just like complex PTSD, is an expression of a highly dysregulated autonomic nervous system. It is the traces that the trauma has left in the brain, in the nervous system, in the mind and in the body. The autonomic nervous system is constantly in stress mode (strong sympathetic activation in fight and/or flight mode) or in survival mode (activation of the older part of the vagus nerve, the dorsal vagus, in response to a life-threatening event (felt and possibly unconsciously perceived) that one could not escape). The nervous system does not return to a healthy state, the brain interprets all sorts of things as danger. One is permanently in a state of alarm. If you manage, through a holistic approach, to make the brain and nervous system understand that you are now safe, you can also cure PTSD.
Definition: As usual, scientists disagree on how to define burnout syndrome. Some see it as an exhaustion depression related to work, a being
burned out, others differentiate burnout from depression, for example by saying: a person with burn-out is in fighting mode, struggling for solutions, a person with depression is no longer
fighting, is sad, melancholic. Of course, the boundaries are fluid. For me, adrenal fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, which has no structural cause, also belongs to this.
Typical symptoms: emotional and physical exhaustion, reduced performance, negative attitude towards work, withdrawal, inner emptiness, sleep disturbances, concentration problems, back pain, digestive problems, migraine.
My view: burnout is clearly a consequence of chronic stress, here clearly related to work. For me it is obvious that this condition is caused by a long-lasting overactivation of the autonomic nervous system. Probably the sympathetic nervous system is too active and permanently triggers the stress axis in the body, the HPA axis. At some point, this system exhausts or goes into protective mode - and then you feel burnt out. The same holistic approach can also reverse burnout.
Definition: Since the Corona vaccination, the post-vac syndrome is increasingly in the media. However, to my knowledge, other vaccines also trigger
such a syndrome in rare cases. It could be an autoimmune reaction or a strong inflammatory response of the body to the vaccination. There have also been isolated cases described of people getting
POTS after covid vaccination.
Typical symptoms: With respect to Corona vaccination, the symptoms are similar to those of Long Covid.
My view: As with Long Covid, there are probably various secondary diseases. In some cases, organ damage can occur or autoimmune reactions. In others, everything rather points to a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system and immune system. My point of view is: A holistic approach can also help with this syndrome.
Definition: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a genetic connective tissue disorder that may be associated with autonomic nervous system dysfunction. There
are different forms of the syndrome.
Typical symptoms: very flexible and overstretchable joints, sensitive skin, vessels, organs, overly stretchable skin, sometimes chronic pain, increased sensitivity to bruising, gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, fainting, palpitations, POTS.
My view: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome often occurs together with dysautonomia, especially POTS. Mast cell activation syndrome also often occurs in parallel. The hyperflexible joints and tissues are congenital. There are various conventional medical therapies such as physical therapy and medications that should definitely be taken. Nevertheless, I hear again and again from people who, through a holistic approach, significantly improve or even resolve the dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system and the symptoms that exist with it.
Other clinical pictures: Migraine, tension headaches, chronic back pain, Hashimoto's thyroiditis (hypothyroidism), endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, chronic sinusitis and other clinical pictures often occur together with the syndromes mentioned above. Again, in my view, an autonomic nervous system and brain in survival mode play a causative role. Ultimately, this can be applied to any chronic disease, even if other factors such as genes, lifestyle, environmental toxins also contribute to the development.
Translated with the help of DeepL
PS: Of course, I research and check everything I write here as well as possible. Nevertheless, I am only human and make mistakes. In addition,
I may draw completely different conclusions as someone else would. Simply because they fit my story. But every story is different.
Important: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for talking to your doctor or other therapist. The content reflects my personal experiences, research and findings that have helped me and that I therefore want to share. However, in your personal case, completely different things may play a role and other things may help. Please talk to your doctor or therapist before making any decisions that affect your physical or mental health. Also important: I don't want to convince anyone of anything here. Rather, I want to point out possible ways that hopefully can help some people to improve or overcome their ME/CFS or other syndromes.