You know something isn’t right. You know you’re living with an undiagnosed illness. But that’s just it: it’s undiagnosed, and all your best efforts to get a diagnosis have failed. Your doctors insist that you are in good health.
So what’s next? Is this the end of the road?
Maybe you feel lost. You feel confused. You want to believe your doctors, but you don’t get better. Living with a chronic illness is always hard, but an undiagnosed chronic illness is monumentally hard.
Life with an undiagnosed illness
Life with an undiagnosed illness feels overwhelming, doesn’t it? You have symptoms to manage on your own, but without understanding the nature of your illness.
Then add on all the normal pressures of career, family, and life. After all, it’s hard to take leave or make excuses for a sickness that nobody recognizes.
You’ve probably tried to get help—tried to get that diagnosis to make sense of your unending exhaustion. But all you got was the endless cycle of referrals from one specialist to another.
And no answers.
That’s life with an undiagnosed illness. No answers.
It is exhausting to invest your time and money into finding the help you need. Yet you’re still left with nothing.
The worst part is that friends, colleagues, and family don’t really know what to do with a mystery illness. If you had a diagnosis with a clear treatment, you’d probably have lasagnas and casseroles stuffing your freezer from well wishers. But what about this?
“Sorry, I can’t come over again, because I’m really tired… because… I don’t know why.”
It’s no wonder mystery and invisible illnesses often lead to distance in your interpersonal relationships.
You’re not alone, and you’re not crazy. If you feel sick, something’s wrong.
Am I a hypochondriac?
After a while, your doctors may have you wondering whether you’re actually a hypochondriac. But, maybe there’s another worthwhile question: Has conventional medicine failed you?
It’s okay to question conventional medicine.
Has your doctor turned every stone and investigated every corner of your medical history? If you cannot confidently answer this question, you’re not crazy. You have experiences and symptoms you don’t even get to discuss with your doctor in a five minute doctor’s appointment. It’s okay to feel frustrated.
The lack of a diagnosis does not invalidate your experiences.
No two individuals experience illness in the exact same manner. No matter your symptoms, don’t dismiss them right off as hypochondria.
Mind, body, and spirit work together in complex ways. Depression sometimes manifests itself in physical symptoms, and physical symptoms sometimes manifests itself in symptoms of anxiety.
That doesn’t mean your symptoms aren’t real. It just means you need a doctor with a holistic medicine background to help you sort through your symptoms. Mental illnesses and physical illnesses sometimes go hand-in-hand.
Why do so many people live with an undiagnosed illness?
While there are rare illnesses that are extremely difficult to diagnose, much of the problem may have more to do with the transactional model of medicine.
What is the transactional model of medicine?
Transactional medicine refers to the dominant form of fee-for-service medicine. Most physicians see their patients in five to twenty minutes and must attempt to see as many patients as possible to increase profits.
Doctors are overworked, and patients barely get out the basics of their major medical history before the appointment is over.
There’s no time to get into questions about your nutrition or sleep hygiene. And does anybody ever ask you about your childhood illnesses? Probably not, unless you have been to a functional medicine doctor.
Conventional, transactional medicine spends the minimal amount of time with a patient and does the minimal amount of investigating. Otherwise, the transaction wouldn’t be profitable.
Why does transactional medicine lead to mystery illnesses?
Let’s take the example of a common illness that conventional medicine rarely diagnoses: HPA-axis dysfunction (commonly known as “adrenal fatigue”).
“Think about what the typical physician does:
Meet a patient. Listen to a list of symptoms and complaints. Diagnose a disease. Prescribe a pill or procedure.
There is no pill or surgical intervention for HPA-axis dysfunction. The problem is your deadly exposure to stress.“Dr. Tiffany Mullens in Laundry, Kids, Dishes… and Adrenal Fatigue in Women
Most physicians struggle to diagnose illnesses that they cannot treat with a pill or procedure. The pharmaceutical industry dominates both the research and training in the medical world.
Most physicians don’t have the mental health training to navigate stress, for example. The fact that you might have a physical chronic illness with mental health roots means that your chances of diagnosis are slim.
How can functional medicine help me find answers?
Functional medicine provides a safe outlet to begin to unravel your mystery illness. One of the biggest differences between functional and conventional medicine is the amount of face time with your doctor.
Rather than treating you like a number or summing up your symptoms into a simple diagnosis, they will take the time to get to know you. They will ask detailed questions about your medical history and order detailed lab work. Their number one goal is always to find the underlying causes of your sickness.
If you have high blood pressure, the functional medicine doctor doesn’t just want to treat your blood pressure. They want to find out why and how your blood pressure got to this point and start there. The root cause is more important than the symptom.
Another important note is that functional medicine doctors receive extra training in the diagnosis and care of mental health illnesses. That’s why they don’t dismiss you when there’s a mental health element to your struggle.
What to expect from a functional medicine practitioner
While it can be difficult to try something new, living with an undiagnosed illness is harder. A functional medicine practitioner may be just what you need to get to the bottom of your symptoms. Here is what you can expect from a functional medicine practitioner:
- Addresses causes, not symptoms. You can expect your functional medicine practitioner to find and treat the root of your illness rather than its symptoms.
- Treats patients like people. Traditional doctor’s offices can become desensitized to a patient’s struggles. Functional medicine is founded on connecting with patients to get to the bottom of their symptoms.
- Takes you seriously. No more over-prescribing medication or dismissing your conditions. They know that you are hurting and they are here to help.
- Knows that healing takes time. Functional medicine practitioners take a patient approach to healing, unlike quick in-and-out doctors visits.
- Uses natural approaches. Lifestyle modifications are a functional medicine practitioner’s first line of defense. Herbs and supplements come next. A functional medicine practitioner will use pharmaceuticals only when all else fails.
A functional medicine practitioner will work with you to create a health plan within your comfort zone. If you feel like conventional medicine has failed you, it might be time to give functional medicine a try.
Not sure what comes next? If you’re ready to stop living with an undiagnosed illness, this symptom quiz is a great starting point.