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Medically Unexplained Symptoms: They’re Real and Much More Common Than You Might Think

woman-holding-heand-and-chestHave you ever visited your doctor with concerns about fatigue, back pain, headaches, dizziness, or heart palpitations only to be told that he or she couldn’t find any underlying medical cause for your symptoms?

If so, you’re certainly not alone. In the medical lexicon, symptoms like these are referred to as “medically unexplained symptoms” (MUS), and they’re very common. Some researchers estimate that MUS may affect anywhere from 10% to 20% of U.S. primary-care patients. Others believe that up to 66% of symptoms discussed in specialty settings may be medically unexplained. In a 2011 study published in the journal Psychosomatics, German researchers found that medically unexplained symptoms “made up two-thirds of all reported symptoms, with women, younger persons, and non-native speakers having the highest rates.”

These complaints are called medically unexplained symptoms when doctors or other medical practitioners cannot find any known disease or condition that accounts for the symptoms. This does not mean that the symptoms are not real, or that they are “all in your head,” or that they are faked. They may be quite real, and they can greatly affect your ability to function properly. Worse still, being told that there is no explanation for them can make coping with such symptoms even harder.

Examples of MUS include symptoms reported by those suffering from depression or anxiety disorders. Such conditions can be aggravated by stress and other triggers, and manifest in the form of physical symptoms. In these types of cases, treatment of the underlying psychological problem often relieves the physical symptoms. In other cases, such as those involving the poorly understood conditions chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and fibromyalgia, not enough is known about the conditions themselves to allow doctors to pinpoint the causes of them. And, of course, medicine itself is constantly evolving, and there are conditions that doctors simply haven’t encountered before, or that there is no known explanation for.

All of this also does not mean that there is no treatment available to help you, especially when it comes to back pain. Back pain is an extremely common MUS, and it’s true that medical doctors are often unable to diagnose or treat the underlying condition. In many cases, they can only prescribe medication to suppress the pain while the body heals on its own. However, chiropractors have a long history of successfully treating back pain using conservative manual therapies that can correct underlying structural problems.

But what if there’s no structural problem to be found? It’s also important to understand that the mind and the body are intimately connected, and that many MUS are triggered by stress. This means that any type of therapy or practice that relieves stress—massage, yoga, relaxation training, meditation, or Tai Chi are great examples—can sometimes help to relieve the symptoms themselves.

Remember—your chiropractor is an expert in diagnosing and treating health problems affecting the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, and will work with you to identify the cause and design an effective treatment plan. Just call or visit the office today!  We can help!

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