An archipelago of unexplained symptoms is the reason for over 100 million doctor visits a year. A vast medical literature indicates that certain complaints, often described as “unexplained” are exceedingly common in the general population. The word “somatization”, more accurate and less stigmatizing than hypochondriais, describes patients whose emotional problems seem to be translated into bodily (somatic) complaints. Large studies have shown that 80% or more of all healthy people experience at one time or another a virtual mixed salad of bodily symptoms. Among the most common ingredients are: joint and muscle aches and pains,fatigue, weakness, irritability, faintness or dizziness, headaches, insomnia, sleepiness, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, sweating, etc. What most of these complaints have in common is their unexplained occurrence, their lack of abnormal physical or laboratory findings, and most important of all, their usually benign clinical course.
Some of these complaints, once they receive a name from the medical establishment form a new church called “diagnosis,” and overnight millions of new converts appear out of the previously healthy population. These co-religionists, now termed “patients” flock to doctors, buy new drugs fashioned for their disease, form support and advocacy groups, and metastasize into web sites. On balance this may not turn out to be a bad thing. After all, millions of sufferers now have a Name for their complaint, physicians and drug companies to nurture them, and, above all social respectability.
On the other hand, for those who question whether certain complaints are indeed a new disease, the issue often comes down to economics. Do doubters have the right to deny fellow citizens the wellness ritual: drugs, diets, and doctors, even if the cost threatens to bankrupt the healthcare system?
For my part, I am anxiously awaiting breakthrough medical articles on “Age-Related Stress Envelopment” or ARSE, previously known as midlife crisis. Then I can finally obtain health insurance coverage for this disabling condition.