Do you have an undiagnosed illness?
Studies show that more than 70 per cent of patients with disassociative seizures and chronic fatigue syndrome are women
To understand this better its important to know what's the difference between disease and illness. Disease is an organic issue which is diagnosed and illness is produced by symptoms it causes. — File photo
I feel ill and my doctor can’t find out what’s wrong! All my tests look okay. Is this some kind of a disease that does not have any diagnosis?
If you are looking for an answer then perhaps this read could help! Sometimes people have symptoms that are deemed medically unexplained and this is typically known as Psychosomatic Disorder. You only realise that you have a problem when you suffer from significant physical symptoms disturbing your lifestyle or making it difficult for you to function. Just to clarify that these issues are not neurological disorders. They belong to the fields of psychology and psychiatry.
Disease and illness
Yes, emotional distress can cause Psychosomatic Disorders and the two most common psychosomatic symptoms are chronic fatigue and pain. These are difficult symptoms to assess because they cannot be objectively measured, they can only be described. As per the findings, up to one-third of people seen in an average general neurology clinic have neurological symptoms that can’t be explained and, in those people, an emotional cause is often suspected.
To understand this better its important to know what's the difference between disease and illness. Disease is an organic issue which is diagnosed and illness is produced by symptoms it causes. Someone could have a disease but due to medication might suffer mind or no illness. In some cases, you could have a disease and illness (symptoms) both, but in case the illness goes beyond the diagnosed scope and medication, then this is something to think about. Imagine someone who has an underactive thyroid gland that causes fatigue. They are on medication and blood tests show that the treatment has returned their thyroid hormone level to normal. We might expect this person to have minimal fatigue symptoms of thyroid disease. However, if that person has crippling tiredness which the thyroid disease does not fully explain, then that tiredness might be called psychosomatic even though there is a known underlying medical condition.
Take a note of this — when you suppress stress, it leaks out in the form of physical symptoms.
Even people with Epilepsy sometimes go through the wrong diagnosis and pills fail to work on them. Why? The seizures could be disassociative seizures which are more psychological, not necessarily due to the electrical activity issues with the brain. Yes, your mind has the ability to create seizures! Your body can respond to upset is to producing blackouts and convulsions. This sort of convulsion is known as disassociative seizures. Often the physical symptoms is there in place of the emotional upset. So for eg, if there is a memory or emotion that is too painful for a person to experience or recall, that emotion is converted into a physical disability as a sort of protective mechanism. In a convulsion, it is as if your brain is shutting down for a minute to keep you safe.
If you did read the above paragraph carefully, you must have noticed some ear-prickup words — too painful to recall, protective, safe. Psychosomatic disorders are psychological and they exist in someones life with a purpose or a role. There are only 3Ps (roles) psychosomatic disorders play - Protect (safe), Punish or Proiortise (attention). For eg for a person with OCD, the purpose is mainly to either protect them or get them attention. Also not to ignore that the tendency to somatize often begins in childhood. Recurrent abdominal pain is common in children but organised cause is found in fewer than ten per cent of those affected. Conversion Disorders occur when distressing emotions or traumatic events cant be voiced, and some treatments (therapies) focus on finding a way to release that voice. We have seen similar cases with IBS and also chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) where specially in the latter, its mainly associated with Psychosomatic Disorder.
People who live longer with psychosomatic disorders will have less percentage of recovery as the body goes into homeostasis for a longer period of time. Plus most of the patients are totally in denial and refuse to get help from a psychiatrist or psychologist. If we have a disease its easier to convince people (and ourselves!) about our dysfunctionality, but the same is difficult if that’s arising due to psychological issues in our mind. Plus stigmatizing the whole condition doesn’t help the process of seeking help.
So if your illness is still undiagnosed, think what could have possibly gone wrong and what role is this illness playing in your mind. You will find a few answers yourself!
Gulneet Chadha is a certified RT therapist. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.