One of the fundamental problems with environmental illnesses is getting the right diagnosis. It can often take years to eliminate all the other possible causes, or find a sympathetic doctor who is knowledgeable about the subject. That means that the most effective treatments aren’t prescribed from the start, causing increased suffering for those afflicted by these illnesses. If you’re struggling to find definitive answers for your symptoms, or you’re being told there’s little that can be done, what action can you take to find the answers and then receive the right treatment?
The Difficulties of Diagnosis
When you present yourself to your doctor with a set of symptoms, they will assess what you’re telling them and proceed on the premise that the most likely cause is responsible. This is a sound, logical approach, based on the theory of Occam’s razor – the simplest solution tends to be the right one. In medicine, it’s often explained with the hoofbeat analogy – if you hear hoofbeats it’s probably a horse, so don’t go looking for a zebra! It’s an approach that makes good sense, because in most cases the obvious solution is the right one – it would be illogical to start testing for rare diseases when someone presents with symptoms of the flu, because it’s very unlikely not to be the flu.
The problem arises when a patient fails to respond to initial treatment, because the most likely cause is, in their case, not to blame. There then ensues a potentially long-winded funneling process, where the next most likely condition is targeted and tested for, until the solution is found. In the case of environmental conditions, that results in diagnosis being made as a result of eliminating all the other possibilities, and that’s why it can take so long.
It’s All in Your Mind
When you’re experiencing symptoms for which there are few objective tests, such as pain and fatigue, your doctor may consider that your condition is a somatic symptom disorder
, i.e., it has a psychological cause rather than a physical one. Patients often find this frustrating and can feel insulted at the suggestion that it’s “all in their mind.” However, many illnesses have a psychological aspect that is highly influential, plus there is the fact that pain derived from a psychological cause is no less uncomfortable than pain from physical causes.
Psychological therapies can be helpful in many physical illnesses, as well as being a frontline treatment for conditions with a significant psychological component. If it’s suggested to you that there is a psychological aspect to your illness, don’t feel you are being dismissed – the brain is a powerful and still largely uncharted organ, and your symptoms are just as worthy of treatment as someone with a defined physical cause for their problems.
The key factor here is that the diagnosis is accurate, because your treatment will be guided by your diagnosis. If you are suffering psychologically, then not following a treatment program that addresses the psychological element will limit your prospects for recovery. On the other hand, only receiving psychological help when there is still a physical cause for some or all of your symptoms will hamper your progress just as much.
There are ways you can help yourself if your diagnosis is slow coming through:
Healthy lifestyle: No matter what the cause of your symptoms, improving your diet and general health will help you manage your condition. The healthier your body is, the stronger your constitution; and the more you limit stress and anxiety, the better shape you’ll be in to combat your symptoms. It’s the same basic rules that apply to everyone for improving health and wellbeing; eat a healthy, balanced diet; drink plenty of water; get a good night’s sleep; exercise regularly; find ways to relax and look after yourself; and avoid smoking, excessive drinking, and illegal narcotics.
Find out for yourself: There’s a world of information at your fingertips these days, and no shortage of advice on even the most unusual of conditions. If you want to do your own research, there are a couple of important points to note. First, make sure that the source of information you’re using is reputable and evidence-based. Many websites are run by people trying to sell ineffective remedies as miracle cures among other scams and misinformation, so look for sites that are written by medical professionals who know what the latest high-quality research shows.
Treatments for Environmental Illnesses
Once you’ve got a diagnosis, the next battle is getting the treatment. Because environmental illnesses are often challenging to diagnose, research into effective treatments is still in the early stages in many cases. For example, it’s problematic deciding on the best course of treatment if you have fibromyalgia, because it’s still not completely understood what causes it in the first place. Unless you consult a specialist doctor, you’re likely to be offered painkilling treatments and advised on lifestyle changes to help you manage your condition. However, if you consult a specialist, they will have a more extensive range of treatment options available that could offer a far more effective way to relieve your symptoms.
Sometimes it’s not clear from existing evidence whether an alternative remedy or complementary therapy could be helpful, or indeed whether a drug licensed for use for one specific condition could be helpful in treating another condition. You can read more
about the pros and cons of specific drugs on pharmaceutical websites, and if you wish you can commission your own independent research into a treatment that could potentially alleviate your symptoms.
One of the best sources of support and information is online or physical groups consisting of people who have the same symptoms as you. The members share their knowledge and experience, and can recommend doctors and clinics that have helped them. These will be a valuable source of support to you if you suspect you have the condition concerned, and may help you get your diagnosis sooner. The most important thing is not to give up – there will be an answer out there somewhere, so keep looking and you’ll find the help and treatment you need.
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