In this column, Pulmonary Hypertension News columnist, Brittany Foster, shares how damaging it can be when someone says that her illness is less than it actually is — and that maybe it’s all in her head:
“‘It’s all in your head.’
“I wish medical professionals knew just how damaging this comment is to someone with a chronic medical condition. These words can make those of us with chronic illness question our judgment of symptoms. It leaves us feeling angry and forces us to think, ‘Am I going crazy?’
“Medical professionals who can’t find an explanation for symptoms often resort to a diagnosis of exclusion. According to the National Library of Medicine, a diagnosis of exclusion is ‘the diagnosis that remains after all other differential possibilities have been excluded.’ Often in the chronic illness community, it becomes a diagnosis of a mental illness. It is important for medical professionals to know that telling a patient who is suffering that ‘this is all in your head’ or ‘this is just anxiety’ can have a lasting, sometimes detrimental, impact on a patient’s physical and mental state.
“I was dismissed as having ‘just anxiety’ for years before an accurate diagnosis and before receiving oxygen therapy. I can remember going into an emergency room after losing consciousness with an excruciating headache, confusion, and an overall feeling of extreme fatigue. When the blood work came back normal and the chest X-ray came back fine, I was labeled anxious. My history of a mental illness masked my lengthy medical history, which includes more than a dozen major surgeries.”
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