Yesterday’s paper had a long article about fibromyalgia and the controversy over whether it’s a made-up affliction or real, which begs the question as to how the medical community defines disease. Can disease only be defined by the ability to measure it with medical testing, or are the symptoms enough to give it disease status? For a non-medical person like me, this question falls under the classification of, “if a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, is there noise?”
On one hand there seems to be an agreement among the medical community that if a consistent set of symptoms exists in a high enough populace, then a “disease” or “syndrome” is added to the books – regardless of whether there is a test to measure its existence. I’m good with that. I believe we can have afflictions that science has no means of measuring yet.
But what happens when science changes their mind and decides that a disease isn’t a disease after all – as with fibromyalgia? Frederick Wolfe, the lead author of the 1990 paper that defined how to diagnose fibromyalgia, now believes that fibro is a physical reaction brought on by stress, depression, and economic and social anxiety. Yikes. What was real for 18 years is now bunk. Just like that.
This article made me think about other afflictions that are void of scientific testing, and the only barometer is a populace suffering from the same symptoms. Attention Deficit Disorder is a big ticket item. And what about that real heart breaker – Restless Leg Syndrome? (I can’t help but wonder if Big Pharma came up with that one on their own – the idea of it is just too silly to contemplate)
What’s interesting about these syndromes and disorders is that the drugs invented to ease patient suffering are as enigmatic as the disease itself. According to the medical articles I’ve read, no one seems to know how or why Lyrica or Ritalin, or Concerta work. The general acceptance of these drugs seems logical in a convoluted way because there are no medical tests to diagnose the problem in the first place. But the drugs are, nonetheless, prescribed by a community that normally says, “it must be scientifically proven.”
But what has me really puzzled is that the medical community is willing to accept an affliction as being real even though there is nothing to prove its existence other than collected data by respected scientists. They’re also willing to accept its pharmaceutical magic bullet, yet they turn their noses up at integrative healing methods – something that has no side effects. I can’t help but see a double standard at play. Hypnotherapy, Reiki, guided visualization, biofeedback, acupuncture, and chiropractic is reviled as a group of snake charmers who are out to fleece granny out of her last dime – even when its advocates are respected docs who have provided equally compelling data. Puzzling.