30 November 2015

Medical matters

My intermittent health anxiety reared its ugly head again this summer when anti-inflammatories that I was taking for a bad back triggered excruciating indigestion. 

Initially I had no idea what was going on, having somehow never suffered from this very common complaint, and I immediately assumed the worst. Google provided some reassurance, in that every source I reviewed gave the same answer. My doctor confirmed my self-diagnosis and the problem resolved after a couple of days of his recommended treatment.

Unfortunately, the symptoms reappeared, and escalated, a month later. The constant gnawing, empty feeling left me unsure whether I was hungry or not, I could have won an Olympic medal for burping, and my stomach gurgled day and night, which kept me awake, just to add to my woes. My biggest concern, though, was that I could now feel food going down when I swallowed. 

I tried every treatment I'd read about - antacids, herbal remedies, eating earlier in the evening, avoiding trigger foods, elevating my sleeping position - yet nothing effected a complete cure. While my online research confirmed that the new symptoms could all be attributed to any number of relatively minor conditions, I was convinced I had something more serious. The fact that these symptoms came and went, and some days hardly troubled me at all, was irrelevant!

A few weeks on, a particularly bad flare-up on holiday finally forced me to abandon Dr Google in favour of going back to my doctor, who confirmed continuing indigestion. Even using its medical term, dyspepsia, there's no getting away from the fact that it's not serious - and I'm much better after a month or so of medication and severely restricting my diet.

Although I felt silly for letting a trivial medical matter concern me so much, perhaps it's reasonable to be scared by unfamiliar symptoms. Those people who conjure up completely non-existent illnesses undoubtedly have a much bigger problem. 

Image courtesy of jk1991/
A friend's brother, who is badly affected by health anxiety, became convinced that he had been exposed to asbestos through his work - there was a very slight, but unproven risk - and that he had developed a lung condition as a result. He had no symptoms, but underwent a private scan, which gave him the all-clear. Sadly, this still didn't put his mind at rest.

I've sometimes wondered about doing the same, to check for any lumps, bumps or other anomalies. The upside would be that if a scan did identify any problems, treatment could be carried out promptly and, therefore, more effectively. 

The downside - other than the cost - is that things can obviously still go wrong between these examinations. Any test is, after all, only proof of your medical status on the day that it's done.

For someone like my friend's brother, even a daily scan would be insufficient to quash their health fears. Only cognitive behaviour therapy, and developing a whole new way of thinking, can slay that particular dragon.

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