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Invisible Illness Week: What You Cannot See Still Hurts

Invisible Illness Week

Have you been to a store and noticed someone parking in a handicapped spot that didn’t appear to have anything wrong with them, for example they do not have a wheelchair or walk with a cane? Don’t automatically judge or assume that this person is taking advantage of the system. They may have what is known as an “invisible illness.”

Invisible Illness or Invisible Disability is actually an umbrella term that encompasses many different conditions that are not immediately apparent to others. However, the disability is real and causes substantial limitations to one or more major life activities.

According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, more than 125 million Americans have at least one chronic condition, and nearly half have more than one. But not every disease has symptoms that are outwardly visible to others. And a lot of times, the person has gone through a difficult journey getting their disease diagnosed, especially when symptoms come and go or are vague, such as generalized fatigue or pain.

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Some conditions that are considered “invisible” include food allergies/intolerances, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression or other mental illness, infertility, thyroid disease, and lupus. Of course, this is a very incomplete list.

Many times, patients feel put off by their doctors and say they didn’t take their symptoms seriously. They may have been initially labeled as “hypochondriac” by family and friends (and healthcare workers).

But don’t always blame doctors either for misdiagnosis. Some conditions still do not have an objective “checklist” for physicians to refer to so their patients will get the help they need. Take fibromyalgia as an example. This disease causes disabling pain, stiffness and tenderness of muscles, tendons and joints - without detectable inflammation. There is no obvious body tissue damage or deformity. There is no diagnostic test, so it can take several visits to “rule out” other diseases before coming to the final diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is another “invisible illness.” Doctors diagnose the condition based on a patient having severe fatigue (in addition to other symptoms such as cognitive impairment, muscle and/or joint pain, and headaches) for at least six months, but only after ruling out another cause.

For those who would like to have more information, this week, patients can participate in the tenth annual “Invisible Illness Awareness Week Virtual Conference.” All seminars presented will be archived as MP3 files so they can be listened to at anytime, even after the conference has ended. Visit http://invisibleillnessconference.com/ for more information or join the Facebook page sponsored by Rest Ministries, Inc. at http://www.facebook.com/InvisibleIllnessWeek.