Are You Living With an Invisible Illness

I see a lot of patients in clinic who have been let down by traditional medical care because they do not fit neatly into a box for a diagnosis. Patients present with a list of symptoms, sometimes diverse and seemingly unlinked, and often their blood work will come back as ‘normal’.  So, the doctor tells them they are fine – or worse, that it is all in their head – and sends them home. Except they are not fine.

It happened to me. And I have witnessed it with numerous patients.

Living with an invisible illness can quickly take its toll. People do not want to be a burden to their family and friends who don’t understand what’s going on and they become isolated. Additionally, being told it is ‘all in your head’ while the symptoms persist can lead to anxiety which can quickly spiral into depression.

I met a new patient recently, let’s call her June, who for the past three years has been living with debilitating fatigue, chronic diarrhoea, strong reactions to nearly everything she ate (to the point she was existing on around 10 different foods only) and struggling with chronic pain. She saw her GP multiple times and each time was told there was nothing wrong with her. Her GP suggested she try antidepressants. It turns out she had been exposed to mould and her body was unable to clear it.

Then there was ‘Peter’ who had been putting up with a variety of symptoms for the last nine years including severe muscle aches and pains, chronic fatigue, dry mouth, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dry eyes and vision issues including a lack of focus, significant gut issues, sweating, nausea, periods of extreme vomiting followed by weight loss of up to 10 kg, urinary issues, tinnitus, hives and swelling, headaches, anxiety and depression. Peter was only in his late 20s. Doctors and specialists ran various tests, each only looking at one part of his body, such as the heart or bowel, with all deciding there was nothing wrong with him. Needless to say, Peter gave up on seeing anyone for help a number of years ago. Upon questioning, Peter had a strong family history of autoimmune disease and his symptoms first started after he began a new job that involved continual chemical exposure.

Just because you cannot name your condition, does not mean you don’t have dysfunction in your body.

Your GP is very well trained to diagnose conditions based on set criteria and to provide treatment, usually in the form of medication specific for that condition. If there is no diagnosis, there is very little your GP can do for you. I do not blame GPs; they are doing the best they can. But there is an undeniable gap in patient care – and that is where a well-trained naturopath comes in!

Naturopaths don’t just look at one part of your body in isolation, we consider your body as a whole in all of its complexity. If you have extreme fatigue, we don’t just consider blood test results for iron and B12, although these are important. We will also ask you about your entire health history from birth, through childhood and right up to where you are now, looking for clues to help join the dots. I like to ask people to finish this sentence: ‘I haven’t been well since…’ and will often complete a timeline to identify triggers. It is incredibly revealing.

When I look at test and pathology results, I am looking for signs of dysfunction not disease. They are two very different things and something your GP will not do.

The role of diet, lifestyle and your environment are equally as important. Genetics can predispose us to illness, BUT it is your epigenetics (what you eat, do, think, feel and surround yourself with) that have the power to switch your genes on or off that can have the greatest impact on your health.

If genetics load the gun, epigenetics pull the trigger.

Both June and Peter had a genetic predisposition to develop autoimmune disease but their chronic exposure to chemicals and toxins, combined with dietary and lifestyle factors, saw them develop an invisible illness. They knew it existed because they lived with it every single day, even though GPs told them there was nothing wrong and it was all in their head. Their first steps towards healing were through understanding how their illness developed initially and what needed to be done to get them well again.

My goal is to find the root cause of your dysfunction and work with you to correct it. I do not need a diagnosis or a name for your condition to be able to do this.

I must mention the importance of the gut–immune interface in both of these cases. June and Peter were experiencing systemic inflammation that stemmed from a compromised gut (including pathogenic bacterial overgrowth) and poor liver detoxification, that resulted in their wide and varied symptoms. By identifying and correcting the root cause of their invisible illness, we were able to dramatically improve their symptoms and overall quality of life.

It is so important to have hope. Things can get better with the right care.

As well as holding a 4-year health science degree in naturopathy, I have completed additional training in nutrigenomics, gut ecology and metabolic modulation (GEMM) and vitae mosaic complex case management for practitioners.

Yes, I love the complex cases! 

If you have been dismissed by your GP, feel unheard and continue to live with your invisible illness, I’d love to work with you. Book a free discovery call today to see how I can help you. Alternatively, if you are ready to take action now, book an initial consultation.

Written by Denise Berry BHSc