Interactions

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Somatization: It's Not All in Our Heads

The article about somatization disorder ["Why Does It Still Hurt, Doc?" Aug. 29] implied that patients with a chronic condition characterized by numerous physical complaints do not suffer from an actual medical condition, since physicians have not been able to determine the cause of their illness.

Three years ago, the Health section ran an article about author Amy Tan's struggle to get diagnosed with Lyme disease. Ms. Tan perfectly fits the profile of someone who suffers from somatization, but in fact she suffered from a serious bacterial infection causing Lyme disease.

Doctors are doing patients with an undiagnosed condition a great disservice to recommend cognitive therapy, which instructs patients to stop looking for a diagnosis. Only with correct diagnosis can patients receive proper treatment.

Helene Jorgensen

Washington

I found your article appalling. Medicine is not an exact science. It is an art. There is a lot that physicians do not know about the way the human body works, and there are many syndromes that do not have good diagnostic tests.

I have an autonomic disorder, most likely since birth, which was not diagnosed until two years ago. I am now 48 years old. The garbage that I have had to put up with from the medical community has been an added burden to the real physical issues I face every day. It was disheartening to read your article, which may only encourage others in the medical community to treat me and others that have similar conditions with disdain.

I have been trying to come up with a way to educate the medical community concerning my disorder and what I go through. Therefore, it would have been much more helpful to me as a patient to have seen an article that enlightened the medical community than the regressive information disseminated by you.

J. York

Gaithersburg

A longtime presumed hypochondriac, I read about somatization disorder with great interest. Last fall, numerous doctors -- cardiologist, psychiatrist, internists, etc. -- dismissed my mysterious symptoms as "in my head." Not so.

After six months of panic attacks, fatigue, night sweats, dizzy spells, joint pain, muscle weakness, TMJ, constipation, multiple infections, sensitivity to light and countless other "growing pains" -- along with missed work and failed classes -- I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease.

I've learned so much since my March diagnosis. I knew something was wrong, but doctors didn't believe me. If your symptoms are real, please get tested for Lyme: very few people get the trademark bull's-eye rash.

Symptoms also vary by person, but if you know your body, you know when something's wrong, despite what doctors say.

One year after my exposure, I'm on long-term antibiotics but reclaiming my life, returning to school and work, repairing my relationships, trying to raise awareness of Lyme and fighting for my health.

Don't let doctors dismiss your concerns as hypochondria. You could have a serious chronic illness.

Andy Wass

Greenbelt

There are people who have terrible health problems that doctors sometimes write off, as your article does. It does nothing to help someone who suffers with things like chronic fatigue syndrome/fibromyalgia, a disease that has also been misunderstood by many people in the medical field and thought to be in a person's head.

There are many of us who have spent years just trying to find a doctor to help and to take us seriously about our pain. Spend a day in our shoes with our pain and maybe your future writings will be more compassionate toward the people in need instead of the know-it-alls who just have not found the cure or the decency to admit they are not all-knowing. Thank God things are changing for us and our disease is being recognized in mainstream medicine.

Anita L. Bowers

Woodbridge

One More Ailment to Watch Out for

One symptom you failed to mention in "Keep an Eye on Kids' Vision" [Aug. 29] is if the child is squinting. My son has keratoconus, in which the cornea bulges outward to form a cone. It went undetected for at least four or five years because he squinted at the eye chart and no one noticed. Squinting flattens out the cone and allows for good vision.

Carol A. Martz

Falls Church

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