Unexplained Illness

Unexplained illness / symptoms but no diagnosis/Medically unexplained symptoms/Mystery illnesses

As has been both one of the great joys and greatest challenge of my professional life over the last 30-something years is to be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with medically unexplained illness.

Below I have written a number of sections which cover my clinical approach to medically unexplained symptoms or mystery illnesses.

Unexplained IllnessThe most important thing is that the patient must try to leave behind  the yes/no, black/white, is it in the box/is it out of the box, kind of thinking which disease based medicine is both blessed and cursed with.

Standard medicine teaches doctors how to make a diagnosis and is very useful in acute care. However ,the standard medical model is woefully inadequate in patients who have chronic (ongoing) symptoms. Sadly, also in standard medicine when a patient has symptoms which are severe but which are not ‘in the disease book’ they may be labelled as suffering from somatic (bodily) symptoms which are coming from a psychological (stress or anxiety or emotional trauma) cause.

Each patient is different and I want to provide you with something that is readable and informative without being overly turgid. I can’t really go into all the details or  you would just find yourself completely bored to tears.

I have tried to look at some of the causes of persistent, unexplained symptoms which I encounter in my practice and which are generally proven amenable to treatment over the years.

One word of advice regarding the medical system in Ireland is: it is impossible for general practitioners to be a master or a mistress of the detailed treatment of every kind of medical condition.

The most important skill in general practice is to be able to diagnose patients and make a competent initial assessment, then prescribe treatment. The greatest challenge for your GP is to be sure to pick up on serious or life-threatening illness. Unfortunately it would add years to medical school if doctors were truly to be taught detailed skills for dealing with unexplained illness. For most patients their GP  is a great support, for many also a good family friend.

I would always encourage patients to not allow the difficulties and challenges of dealing with an unexplained illness to blind them to the importance of maintaining a good relationship with their family doctor.

If you have potentially serious or worrisome symptoms please be certain to get checked out by your family doctor and/or consultant before coming to see a doctor such as myself who specialises in the care of unexplained illness.