Dealing with Mystery Symptoms

Medical diagnosis isn't as easy as you might think.

According to surveys, an estimated 25 to 33 percent of patients seeing their family doctors report symptoms that cannot be easily explained or treated.   These symptoms can strike any part of the body and are often so severe that patients may find themselves unable to work or do basic chores around the house.   Cases such as this can be classified in different ways,  including medically unexplained symptoms (MUS), chronic functional abdominal pain (CFAP), chronic whiplash, chronic pain disorder, etc..   For European physicians, there is a new diagnosis that is increasingly popular known as bodily distress syndrome (BDS) but they all share one basic similarity:  the doctors really don't know what is happening with their patients.    While disorders such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome have become recognized as legitimate conditions in medical circles, they may also lack a clear cause and, for many years, were also considered untreatable by medical doctors.   

Still, when patients come to their doctors for answers and those answers aren't readily available, it can represent a major drain on health care systems around the world.  In the United States alone, the cost of medical visits, medical tests, prescriptions, and lost work-hours for these mystery conditions has been estimated to be $256 billion per year.    Part of the problem is that medical doctors are trained to find a physical cause and may often overlook psychological factors that may be contributing to what is happening with their patients.  Unfortunately, even when these patients are referred to a mental health professional, the patients themselves may actively resist any attempt at finding a psychological cause for their symptoms.    Often resentful at being seen as "crazy", patients may drop out of treatment altogether.


To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post. 




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