THE number of local patients hospitalised because of chronic fatigue syndrome has almost doubled.
Last year, a total of 24 patients were treated in Southern Board hospitals such as Craigavon Area Hospital for the debilitating illness compared to just 13 in 2009.
However, a Dungannon GP has allayed concerns that incidence of the condition is increasing rapidly.
She suggested that the rise might be down to a greater awareness of the condition among patients, and a willingness to seek medical attention, as well as a growing capacity among doctors and health professionals to make the diagnosis and refer patients for help.
A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said it was responding to the sharp increase in admissions.
“The board is devising a regional network to provide support for this disease”, he said.
“We are working at present to strengthen services for both the diagnosis of this condition and to offer support for patients. “In overall terms, the Board, and the wider health service, continue to seek further service improvements for the benefit of all patients.”
The Departmnet of Health said that patients referred from GPs with the condition, also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), are seen by a Consultant Physician and treatment is planned in accordance with NICE guidance.
In March, the HSC Board and the Public Health Agency co-hosted a workshop to consider and agree plans for further development priorities for Chronic Fatigue Services.
A key element of the future model of provision will be the establishment of a regional network of expertise to support consistent diagnosis and condition management.
Very little is known about the illness which can leave sufferers exhausted after little or no exercise.
It is most frequently diagnosed in people between the age of 40 and 59, mainly women, but it is also on the rise among younger people.
About 250,000 people in Britain suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), according to the ME Society. Opinion is divided over the cause, with genetic, physical and psychological factors all believed to play a part.
The main symptom is severe fatigue, made worse by exertion, which does not go away after resting. Muscle pains, headaches, memory problems and depression can also be involved. In some cases it can be completely debilitating, resulting in patients being unable to leave their beds.
Understanding of the disease is largely led by those symptoms. There is no test for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, instead it is diagnosed by ruling out other conditions which might produce the same symptoms.
The underlying cause, or indeed causes, have been more elusive.