Despite all that medicine has achieved, there are still some illnesses that defy treatment because it’s hard for doctors to pin down what they’re treating. And because the symptoms often are perceived only by the patient, some argue that these conditions are more psychological than physical. For the people with these conditions, however, their symptoms are not just psychosomatic. They spend lots of time and money seeking relief, or at the very least, a more conclusive diagnosis.
People who believe they suffer from Morgellons disease report itching and crawling sensations on their skin, coupled with fatigue and joint pain. They also tell doctors that fibers or filaments seem to be emerging from their skin. Singer Joni Mitchell claimed she had it. But CDC says the disease does not exist, at least not with any known physiological cause, and they call it “an unexplained dermopathy.” Their research, published in 2012, found that patients complaining of Morgellons often had underlying psychiatric illness or cognitive impairments – some likened their illness to being in a “fog.” The research team examined the fibers and found they were of the type found in clothing, leading them to conclude that the fibers come from patients’ clothes sticking to skin lesions as they scratch themselves raw.
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Originally called myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) was first described in a 1988 journal article. CFS is sometimes diagnosed as fibromyalgia or Epstein-Barr virus infection, which speaks to the complex and confusing nature of this condition. Though it does share symptoms with some definable diseases, the primary symptom of CFS is, as the name implies, an unrelenting tiredness and lack of energy that no amount of rest can fix. This fatigue can last for weeks or months, and sometimes be accompanied by vague pain. While some doctors are arguing about its validity as an illness, others are looking for better ways to diagnose it, as well as possible treatments.
Complex regional pain syndrome
CRPS, also called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, is a type of chronic pain that usually affects one or more limbs. The affected area also becomes red, hot, and swollen, and the skin shows changes in coloration, sweating, and hair growth patterns. While the cause is not clear, CRPS typically starts after the limb is fractured, crushed, or otherwise traumatized. But the pain and other reactions are often out of proportion to the injury. Among the theories are unseen blood vessel damage, viral infection, or the misfiring of the body’s immune system in response to the injury.
Empty nose syndrome
Patients with this condition complain of breathing difficulties and the feeling of obstructions in their nasal passages. Yet otoscopes, CT scans, and sinus X-rays show nothing. This problem usually crops up after a turbinectomy, a surgery to remove turbinates, shelf-like structures in the nasal cavity. Ironically, the procedure is usually performed to relieve nasal obstruction. After the surgery, patients may begin complaining of nasal problems or become obsessively convinced that there is something wrong with their noses. Michael Jackson, known for getting repeated and extreme nose surgeries, may have suffered from empty nose syndrome, according to a doctor who treated the singer. The syndrome has led to patient attacks on otolaryngologists, psychiatric hospitalizations, and even suicides. Yet doctors remain mystified.