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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Disproving A Diagnosis

08/16/2005

Question:

Until this year I was a healthy male in my early thirties. Within the last few months, I`ve suddenly developed a series of inexplicable physical symptoms: numbness/tingling in all my extremities, loss of sensation, muscle twitching, burning pain down both arms/legs, etc. I was put through the wringer in terms of tests, and I`ll be the first to admit that what started off as mild concern quickly degraded into outright fear as the symptoms got worse. I`ve had a variety of MRI`s, blood tests and physical exams and nothing was ever found that could explain the symptoms, which continue to this day. Because the doctors failed to find any objective evidence of a physical problem, they`ve been openly speculating --in writing-- that I might suffer from an anxiety disorder. Now my pursuit of an answer has been considerably undermined by this so-called "finding." Every time I go to a doctor, they ask for past reports, and when they read the mention of "anxiety", their demeanor toward me noticeably changes and my concerns get dismissed. What am I to do? How can I prove to them that this is not anxiety-related? Again, it should be made clear that prior to the onset of these physical problems, I was healthy, symptom-free and rarely visited doctors. But because the doctors can`t find an answer, they seem to be blaming me for it, as though I`m some sort of crazed hypochondriac who is conjuring his own symptoms. The physical problems are bad enough without having to battle the doctors on top of it all. Do I have any recourse here?

Answer:

I think it is interesting, that as your physicians are discussing a potential diagnosis with you (anxiety) you are thinking they are calling you a "crazed hypochondriac."  I certainly cannot diagnose you over the e-mail, but I hope I can make you understand anxiety disorders a little better.

Anxiety disorders are a REAL medical illness.  They are not "made up symptoms."  Anxiety disorders encompass several different illnesses, including panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, among others.  Most anxiety disorders occur in otherwise healthy people who function perfectly normally in society, holding down jobs, socializing with friends and having normal relationships.  The symptoms of anxiety, like those of many illnesses, may come on quickly or gradually.  Anxiety disorders are felt to be due to an imbalance of brain neurotransmitters (or chemicals).  Depending on the exact imbalance and the part of the brain affected, symptoms vary among individuals.  Often there are both physical and emotional symptoms, but in some individuals, one or the other will predominate (for example, some people just feel anxious, nervous, worry a lot, get fearful or panic, while others may have nausea, vomiting, pain, numbness and tingling, headaches, etc, and others have a combination of symptoms.)

I cannot determine over the internet if you have anxiety.  However, I encourage you to openly discuss this possibility with your physician, and consider consulting a mental health professional such as a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist for an evaluation, as well.  Anxiety is a real disease, and there is real, and effective, treatment for it.

The attached weblinks have more information on anxiety. 

Good luck.

Related Resources:

NIH NIMH anxiety
anxiety disorders of america

For more information:

Go to the Anxiety and Stress Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati