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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.

Morgellons disease

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.

  • The doctors (psychiatrists) arguing about the validity of CFS as an illness are best ignored at this point. Their prima facie categorization of CFS as a functional somatic syndrome has already been handily debunked by decades of biomedical research. As noted, CFS was first described in 1988 and was intended as a case definition for an infectious, chronic mononucleosis-like illness. The name was hijacked in 1991 by the same argumentative psychiatrists and turned into something entirely different. Every day that goes by these doctors are finding themselves further and further on the wrong side of history.

  • I’m not always skeptical about medical conditions. But when I am… I make sure to look at evidence for both sides of the debate. Here’s some strong evidence for Borrelia spirochetes’ association with Morgellons disease. Culturing spirochetes and confirming with PCR and sequencing is a heavy hitter when it comes to evidence. At least 3 university labs and an independent team of researchers have corroborating results. The author apparantly forgot to access the medical literature on the Morgellons topic.

    1. Savely VR, Stricker RB: Morgellons disease: analysis of a population with clinically confirmed microscopic subcutaneous fibers of unknown etiology. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2010; 3: 67-78.

    2. Middelveen MJ, Stricker RB: Filament formation associated with spirochetal infection: A comparative approach to Morgellons disease. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2011; 4: 167-177.

    3. Middelveen MJ, Mayne PJ, Kahn DG, Stricker RB. Characterization and evolution of dermal filaments from patients with Morgellons disease. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2013; 6: 1-21.

    4. Middelveen MJ, Burugu D, Poruri A et al. Association of spirochetal infection with Morgellons disease. F1000Research 2013; 2:25.

    5. Mayne P, English JS, Kilbane EJ et al. Morgellons: a novel dermatological perspective as the multisystem infective disease borreliosis. F1000Research 2013; 2:118.

    6. Middelveen MJ, Rasmussen EH, Kahn DG, Stricker RB: Morgellons disease: A chemical and light microscopic study. J Clin Exp Dermatol Res. 2012; 3: 140.

    7. Middelveen MJ, Bandoski C, Burke J, Sapi E, Filush KR, Wang Y, Franco A, Mayne PJ, Stricker RB. Exploring the association between Morgellons disease and Lyme disease: Identification of Borrelia burgdorferi in Morgellons disease patients. BMC Dermatol 2015;15:1.

  • Further proof the AMA etc know a little about a lot. I have Interstitial Cystitis. I was 22 when symptoms began. I was told I was crazy. I was sent to counseling. But I KNEW my suffering was “real” or, should I say physical. I began to do research at my college’s library. In the way back of the urology section I found a book about IC written by a Russian physician from the 1800’s. However, because and as far as they knew, the condition primary effected women, it had been listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health as a psychiatric disorder. Fun times.

  • I am a skeptic. Unlike most skeptics I don’t have confidence in the only branch of medicine (so-called) which cannot validate a single of its diagnoses with a biological test. No scan, blood, or urine test confirms a psychiatric diagnosis of “mental illness,” but such a diagnosis is widely accepted by people who are rightly skeptical of “Morgellons disease.” It’s apparently too much to expect skeptics to be consistent.

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