Illness Anxiety Disorder

“Please write something from a medical perspective about anxious people who worry every little thing is some serious disease.” — reQuest 2018

This is quite a brilliant and timely question.

Here: https://www.anxiety.org/hypochondriasis-replaced-by-two-new-disorders-in-dsm-5.

The DSM V was published on May 18, 2013. This is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5,  and it redefines various disorders. For example, opiate dependence has disappeared and so has opiate addiction. Instead, there is one diagnosis: opiate overuse syndrome. Which really combines both opiate addiction and opiate dependence and makes it a spectrum.

The DSM V drops hypochondriasis. Wait, you say, that diagnosis no longer exists? Well, yes, correct. So the diagnoses are made up? Yes, as my daughter says, “All the words are made up.” So psychiatry changes and the diagnosis definitions change and some diagnoses disappear. Medicine is like the Oregon Dunes, really. The information is changing daily. I went into medicine thinking it is like a cookbook, where I just have to learn all the recipes. Nope, sand dunes: the wind and waves and new information change the contours daily. It drives my patients nuts. “My insurance won’t cover the medicine I’ve been on for 26 years.” Um, yeah, sorry, work for single payer and shut down the insurance companies, ok? “This combination of medicines has never killed me yet.” Um, yeah, sorry, but you are in fact getting older and we no longer think that combination is safe and first do no harm: I can’t prescribe combinations that I think may kill you.

Hypochondriasis has been replaced by two diagnoses: Somatic Symptom Disorder and Illness Anxiety Disorder.

From the Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-professionals/clinical-updates/psychiatry-psychology/diagnostic-statistical-manual-mental-disorders-redefines-hypochondriasis.

“Patients with illness anxiety disorder may or may not have a medical condition but have heightened bodily sensations, are intensely anxious about the possibility of an undiagnosed illness, or devote excessive time and energy to health concerns, often obsessively researching them. Like people with somatic symptom disorder, they are not easily reassured. Illness anxiety disorder can cause considerable distress and life disruption, even at moderate levels.”

“To meet the criteria for somatic symptom disorder, patients must have one or more chronic somatic symptoms about which they are excessively concerned, preoccupied or fearful. These fears and behaviors cause significant distress and dysfunction, and although patients may make frequent use of health care services, they are rarely reassured and often feel their medical care has been inadequate.”

So, subtle difference. Broadly, the illness anxiety disorder people are sure they have SOMETHING and are worried about ALL THE SYMPTOMS. The somatic symptom disorder people are worried about A SPECIFIC SYMPTOM OR SYMPTOMS and WHY HAVEN’T YOU FIXED ME.

Some of the people complaining of weird symptoms do have a medical diagnosis that has not been sorted out. Take multiple sclerosis for example. The average time from the start of symptoms to diagnosis is 4-5 years.

Here: http://biketxh.nationalmssociety.org/site/DocServer/Facts-about-MS.pdf?docID=54383).

Also here: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/Diagnosing-Tools.

Another one is sarcoidosis: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sarcoidosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350358. It’s hard to diagnose, can affect different parts of the body, and it’s still pretty mysterious. Add to that list chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and numerous other diagnoses.

With multiple sclerosis, you may be thinking, well, if they had just done the brain MRI sooner, the diagnosis would be made. Not necessarily. I did find a patient with a bunch of MS brain lesions: made the diagnosis. She had had a brain MRI 3-5 years before because of suspicious symptoms during pregnancy. At that time her MRI was entirely normal.

The DSM V does not have a diagnosis called psychophysiological disorder. This is an ongoing discussion:
1. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7f7f/21a9b524fb677d575428bea11aab4c8d70c5.pdf
2. https://thoughtbroadcast.com/2011/01/21/psychosomatic-illness-and-the-dsm-5/
This site: http://www.stressillness.com/ is my current favorite about psychophysiological disorders. I heard a lecture from the physician who runs the site. He is at OHSU in Portland and gets the gastrointestinal patients where “they can’t find anything wrong” from all over the state. He is really good at this. He and I are in agreement: the symptoms are real. However, the symptoms may come from emotional suffering and from emotional trauma in the past and present.

It is clear that fibromyalgia is a “real” disorder: functional MRI of the brain shows the pain centers lighting up more with a standardized pain stimulus than “normal” patients. PTSD is “real”. It is interesting that there is more stigma surrounding fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue than PTSD: is that because the former two are more often diagnosed in women, and the latter is legitimate (finally) for male (and a smaller number of female) veterans?

And what do I, your humble country doctor, think? I think that chronic fatigue and PTSD and fibromyalgia and illness anxiety disorder and the others all may be variations of the same thing. Our body will handle and “store” or “stuff” emotions that we cannot handle or are not in a safe situation to handle it. Eventually our body decides that we are now safe enough and will notify us that we have to handle the emotions. Currently our culture is terribly unsupportive of this and there is huge stigma attached to dealing with it. We are all supposed to just be nice.

In the end, we can’t judge how a friend feels or whether they are well or not. We have to treat them with respect and kindness.

The photograph is me on my grandfather’s lap. He became a psychiatrist and I am a family physician. Taken in 1962 or 3. We are at cabins in Ontario, Canada. What a pair of grubs, but happy…..

I miss your skin

I miss your skin

the planes of shoulder blades
layers of muscle overlying them
the trapezius sweeping up to the base of the skull
and down to the tenth vertebrae
like a wing pointed inwards
on your back
and attached to bones

more and more in clinic
I pull out Netter’s beautiful drawings
and show people the bones
and that the bones are not just floating
in a sea of muscle and organs
every bone is attached to muscles
to tendons to ligaments
together in an elaborate
beautiful
working system
and if one muscle is torn too loose
or tightens to protect itself
and heals scarred calcified
too short
it pulls on the other muscles
and tendons and bones

I miss your skin
your muscle
your tendons
your ligaments
your bones

and all the rest

 

I took the photograph in the boatyard in 2016. Sometimes I dream I have feathers….

 

 

Wellness

What is wellness and what is illness?

Many of the people that I see in clinic want healing. But healing is complicated. Many people define healing as “I want to be the way I was six years ago when I felt good.”

I delve into the time when they felt good. Sometimes when I start asking about it, they were very busy. Often very stressed. Often not paying attention to their own care, caring for someone else, a parent, a child, a partner. Or overworking with great intensity. “But I could do it!” they say, “I didn’t feel bad!”

…Maybe not. But the self care was deferred. The body struggled on as best it could, absorbing trauma after trauma, being ignored until a tipping point was reached. Then the switch was thrown and the system crashed…

When my sister died of cancer at 49, the family fought. Lawsuits. I promptly crashed and was out sick for two months. I nearly died too, of sepsis. I thought, I’m not going to be that stupid again. Well, except I was. My father died fourteen months after my sister and I was executor, dealing with a 1979 will. I was sure that I would be sued. I did not cut back work and I didn’t rest. I worked on the estate and cried, evenings and weekends.

After a year, I crashed again. Sepsis, again. I did not die, but this time I was out for ten months and then had to work half time for ten months. And I thought, oh, am I stupid or what? I didn’t take time off when my father died. I just pulled my boots up and kept working, two jobs. Executor and physician.

I made the rounds of specialists. I coughed for six months. Pulmonary. My lungs were slowly improving, very slowly. My muscles were lagging: neurology said they would get better. “When?” I said. “We don’t know,” said the neurologist, grinning. “I hate doctors,” I said. He laughed. On to Ear, nose and throat, then Asthma/Allergy, then Infectious Disease. “We don’t know how to keep you from getting it again.” says the Infectious Disease specialist cheerfully. “No idea.”

Back to work. Half time for ten months. And now my new “full time”. My goal is not to work more than forty hours a week. I spend 4.5-5 hours seeing patients and 3 hours reading and making decisions about labs, specialist notes, ER notes, inpatient notes, pharmacy notes, garbage from insurance companies, medicare’s new and improved impossible rules, continuing medical education, pathology reports, notes from patients and phone calls. And then I go home.

I would have qualified for a diagnosis of chronic fatigue six months into the illness. I didn’t seek it because I didn’t care. I was quite certain that I would get better, though I didn’t know how long it would take. I was quite certain that I would have to behave differently or I would crash again. If I get it again, I don’t think I will be able to do medicine and I like doing medicine. Also, if I get it again, there is a 28-50% mortality rate. Not good odds. So I need to pay attention, rest when the stress reaches the level of stupid, and take care of myself.

It is now thirty months since I got sick. I do actually feel like my muscles are back to normal. My lungs aren’t quite. I can tell when I play the flute that there is some scarring, after three bad pneumonias. But I can play and sing and I am slowly getting back to shape.

But note: I am NOT going back to where I was. I am paying attention. I am changing my job and my life so that I stay healthier. I am not returning to unhealthy levels of work and stress. And if stress in my personal life flips to high, I take time off from work. I have to, to stay healthy.

When I meet a new patient, the ones that are hardest to help are the ones who want to turn back the clock. They want the exact same life back that crashed them. The life that they got sick in. Think of a veteran getting blown up: we don’t expect them to be the same. Think of my 90 year old patient who went through both brain and heart surgery. He was better. He was able to hunt again which was his goal. But he said, “You have not made me feel that I am 20 again.” I laughed and said “And I am not going to. Talk to your higher power.” He was teasing me, but he was also acknowledging that his body and his endurance and his health at 90 was different than at age 20.

We need a new paradigm of wellness. Wellness is not staying the same for one’s entire life. You will not be 20 for 70 years. Wellness is changing as your life changes and paying attention to what you and others need. Wellness is accepting illness and deciding how our life needs to be changed to be well.

I took the photograph of Mount St Helen’s five years ago. The mountain changed too, as we all do.

Croup and ipecac in Anne of Green Gables

My daughter has listened to me talk about medicine all her life. And she comes up with brilliant questions.

“Mom, if the three year old in Anne of Green Gables had croup, why did she get better when Anne treated her with ipecac?”

“Hmmmm.” My daughter has learned enough from me talking about croup to know that I don’t use ipecac. I use a dose of steroids, an oxygen tent with cold mist if needed and possibly epinephrine.

“The doctor in the book says that the baby would have died if Anne hadn’t known what to do.”

I reread the passage in Anne of Green Gables. The book was written in 1908 by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Anne is such an imaginative extrovert that my daughter objected the first time we read it. “Mom, no one is like that.” I named two very extroverted girls in her class. “Oh. Ok, yes.” Anne has been a foster child who helped raise three pairs of twins. She is eleven. This is from Chapter 18:

    “Oh, Anne, do come quick,” implored Diana nervously. “Minnie May is awful sick—she’s got croup. Young Mary Joe says—and Father and Mother are away to town and there’s nobody to go for the doctor. Minnie May is awful bad and Young Mary Joe doesn’t know what to do—and oh, Anne, I’m so scared!”
    Matthew, without a word, reached out for cap and coat, slipped past Diana and away into the darkness of the yard.
    “He’s gone to harness the sorrel mare to go to Carmody for the doctor,” said Anne, who was hurrying on hood and jacket. “I know it as well as if he’d said so. Matthew and I are such kindred spirits I can read his thoughts without words at all.”
    “I don’t believe he’ll find the doctor at Carmody,” sobbed Diana. “I know that Dr. Blair went to town and I guess Dr. Spencer would go too. Young Mary Joe never saw anybody with croup and Mrs. Lynde is away. Oh, Anne!”
    “Don’t cry, Di,” said Anne cheerily. “I know exactly what to do for croup. You forget that Mrs. Hammond had twins three times. When you look after three pairs of twins you naturally get a lot of experience. They all had croup regularly. Just wait till I get the ipecac bottle—you mayn’t have any at your house. Come on now.”
    The two little girls hastened out hand in hand and hurried through Lover’s Lane and across the crusted field beyond, for the snow was too deep to go by the shorter wood way. Anne, although sincerely sorry for Minnie May, was far from being insensible to the romance of the situation and to the sweetness of once more sharing that romance with a kindred spirit.
    The night was clear and frosty, all ebony of shadow and silver of snowy slope; big stars were shining over the silent fields; here and there the dark pointed firs stood up with snow powdering their branches and the wind whistling through them. Anne thought it was truly delightful to go skimming through all this mystery and loveliness with your bosom friend who had been so long estranged.
    Minnie May, aged three, was really very sick. She lay on the kitchen sofa feverish and restless, while her hoarse breathing could be heard all over the house. Young Mary Joe, a buxom, broad-faced French girl from the creek, whom Mrs. Barry had engaged to stay with the children during her absence, was helpless and bewildered, quite incapable of thinking what to do, or doing it if she thought of it.Anne went to work with skill and promptness.
    “Minnie May has croup all right; she’s pretty bad, but I’ve seen them worse. First we must have lots of hot water. I declare, Diana, there isn’t more than a cupful in the kettle! There, I’ve filled it up, and, Mary Joe, you may put some wood in the stove. I don’t want to hurt your feelings but it seems to me you might have thought of this before if you’d any imagination. Now, I’ll undress Minnie May and put her to bed and you try to find some soft flannel cloths, Diana. I’m going to give her a dose of ipecac first of all.”
    Minnie May did not take kindly to the ipecac but Anne had not brought up three pairs of twins for nothing. Down that ipecac went, not only once, but many times during the long, anxious night when the two little girls worked patiently over the suffering Minnie May, and Young Mary Joe, honestly anxious to do all she could, kept up a roaring fire and heated more water than would have been needed for a hospital of croupy babies.
    It was three o’clock when Matthew came with a doctor, for he had been obliged to go all the way to Spencervale for one. But the pressing need for assistance was past. Minnie May was much better and was sleeping soundly.
    “I was awfully near giving up in despair,” explained Anne. “She got worse and worse until she was sicker than ever the Hammond twins were, even the last pair. I actually thought she was going to choke to death. I gave her every drop of ipecac in that bottle and when the last dose went down I said to myself—not to Diana or Young Mary Joe, because I didn’t want to worry them any more than they were worried, but I had to say it to myself just to relieve my feelings—’This is the last lingering hope and I fear, tis a vain one.’ But in about three minutes she coughed up the phlegm and began to get better right away. You must just imagine my relief, doctor, because I can’t express it in words. You know there are some things that cannot be expressed in words.”
    “Yes, I know,” nodded the doctor. He looked at Anne as if he were thinking some things about her that couldn’t be expressed in words. Later on, however, he expressed them to Mr. and Mrs. Barry.
    “That little redheaded girl they have over at Cuthbert’s is as smart as they make ’em. I tell you she saved that baby’s life, for it would have been too late by the time I got there. She seems to have a skill and presence of mind perfectly wonderful in a child of her age. I never saw anything like the eyes of her when she was explaining the case to me.”
    Anne had gone home in the wonderful, white-frosted winter morning, heavy eyed from loss of sleep, but still talking unweariedly to Matthew as they crossed the long white field and walked under the glittering fairy arch of the Lover’s Lane maples.
    “Oh, Matthew, isn’t it a wonderful morning? The world looks like something God had just imagined for His own pleasure, doesn’t it? Those trees look as if I could blow them away with a breath—pouf! I’m so glad I live in a world where there are white frosts, aren’t you? And I’m so glad Mrs. Hammond had three pairs of twins after all. If she hadn’t I mightn’t have known what to do for Minnie May. I’m real sorry I was ever cross with Mrs. Hammond for having twins. But, oh, Matthew, I’m so sleepy. I can’t go to school. I just know I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I’d be so stupid. But I hate to stay home, for Gil—some of the others will get head of the class, and it’s so hard to get up again—although of course the harder it is the more satisfaction you have when you do get up, haven’t you?”
    “Well now, I guess you’ll manage all right,” said Matthew, looking at Anne’s white little face and the dark shadows under her eyes. “You just go right to bed and have a good sleep. I’ll do all the chores.”

I finished reading. “I think that the reason ipecac worked is because it wasn’t what we call croup now. I think it was diptheria. With diptheria kids can’t breathe because there is a grey membrane of dead cells that covers the airway and can totally block it. The native americans used spiky seedpods to try to remove it. Vomiting would work too. By making the baby throw up, she was clearing her airway. I have never seen a child with diptheria because of vaccinations. I hope I never do see diptheria because it is much much worse than croup. Croup now is usually a virus like parainfluenza but diptheria is a bacteria and can kill.”

We looked it up on the CDC website. One in two people with diptheria die without treatment. One in ten die with treatment. That little “d” in your tetnus shot, the Td? That is the diptheria part of the vaccination, that you should update every ten years.

“They may have called both “croup” at the time the book was written. That was a really good question.”

My daughter was satisfied that this is a reasonable explanation for the puzzle.

http://www.cdc.gov/diphtheria/about/symptoms.html
http://www.cdc.gov/diphtheria/about/complications.html
http://www.cdc.gov/diphtheria/about/bam-villain-for-kids-fs.html
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/inkfish/2014/03/25/classic-childrens-books-ruined-modern-medicine/

Also published on everything2.com today. The photo is my niece.