Fatigue is a real symptom, not just aging

January 6, 2016 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

On a daily basis, I see patients who are beyond frustrated.

The reason? Their doctor doesn’t take them seriously. They dismiss symptoms as “all in your head” or “a passing phase” or “just part of getting older”.

But oftentimes, they’re wrong.

Diagnosing illnesses can be difficult. And the more complex or mysterious, the harder it can be.

And, with some rarer diseases, the symptoms are so similar to other, more well-known conditions that the signs of something deeper can go ignored.

But just because they are rare, or not well understood, doesn’t mean these diseases don’t exist.

Today, let’s take a look at some of the hardest diseases to diagnose—and what you can do, if you suspect you or someone you love has one.

The diseases that make doctors roll their eyes

Chronic Active Epstein-Barr

Believe it or not, you probably have herpes. About 95% of the world carries the Epstein-Barr virus—a strain of herpes that infects most of us while still in the womb.

However, Epstein-Barr is usually latent—it presents no symptoms, and is simply a silent passenger.

Chronic Active Epstein-Barr is different. Very rarely, Epstein-Barr gets activated and starts to cause all sorts of symptoms, primarily the persistent fatigue of mononucleosis.

How or why it gets activated isn’t known. But when it does, you’ll likely have a spiking fever, and you may get problems with your liver and spleen. Early, it often looks a lot like the flu.

The difference is, Epstein-Barr doesn’t ever go away.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

We don’t know what causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

And we don’t have a great path to ridding patients of the disease.

What we do know, however, is that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is chronically misdiagnosed.

So said a recent study out of England, which concluded that many cases go entirely untreated. Doctors simply miss the symptoms.

That’s somewhat understandable, as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome often looks like the flu at first. But, when fatigue and poor sleep continue after “the flu” has passed, doctors ought to be paying more attention.

Lyme Disease

Unless you catch a patient with the tell-tale bulls-eye rash where they were bitten by a tick, Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose.

There are a number of tests for Lyme disease, but none of them are absolutely conclusive—positively or negatively.

And some doctors dismiss those tests out of hand anyway.

That’s dangerous. Lyme disease symptoms mimic over 300 other illnesses—with everything from fatigue, to joint pain, to seizures or depression.

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And in the most extreme cases, Lyme disease can be fatal.

So if you’re an avid camper, hiker or general outdoors enthusiast—anything that may expose you to a tick bite, make sure you tell your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms I’ve mentioned.

How I treat mysterious ailments

All three of these diseases—and many more like them—are time-consuming to diagnose, since you have to rule out so many other things. But good medical treatment requires vigilance.

If I have a patient come in with flu-like symptoms, I’ll start monitoring.

999 times out of 1,000, it’s the flu.

But if the flu doesn’t go away after an acceptable period of time, I’ll start to troubleshoot. I call it peeling back the onion.

One symptom that is almost always present is fatigue. So first, I have to establish the cause of the fatigue.

There are five things that can do it, from most to least likely:

Lack of sleep. If a patient isn’t getting enough sleep—or isn’t restful while sleeping—that can be the entire problem. A tired body is more susceptible to illness as well, so a series of colds can look more ominous, when the real problem is rest.

To establish whether sleep is the issue, I set up good sleep hygiene for my patients, and give them melatonin.

Hormonal imbalances. This is one of the most common causes of fatigue. For example, it happens when your thyroid isn’t properly regulating your adrenal hormones. And that’s very common in a world where our fight-or-flight mechanism is going off every time the boss yells!

To help balance hormones, I help patients set up meditation and gratitude practices, and give them supplements containing certain amino acids.

Infection. Not every illness is mysterious. Oftentimes, there are more common infections causing the trouble. I put together all possible symptoms, and see if there’s a simple explanation that fits. Then, I treat for that.

Nutrition. Eating poorly can cause all sorts of problems with energy.

However, poor nutrition can also be caused by other issues. Celiac’s disease, for instance, interferes with the proper uptake of nutrients in your intestines.

There are plenty of easy blood tests that show what nutrients you may be lacking.

If nutrition is the problem, I get my patient eating balanced meals, and taking proper supplements. If that doesn’t do the trick, I start digging for more exotic causes like Celiac’s.

Toxicity. We’re surrounded by a largely toxic environment. And some of those toxins can cause most or all symptoms that a patient might be having.

To eliminate the possibility of toxicity, I ensure that patients are eating unprocessed, organic foods. I study where they work and live. And I prescribe coffee enemas, as a surefire way to clean out toxins.

If you are suffering from fatigue, or a list of symptoms that won’t go away, you can go through this same checklist. Odds are extremely good that one of these five causes is the true culprit.

If, however, your symptoms persist, it’s time to see a doctor. And make sure it’s one that will take your problem seriously, instead of brushing it off, as so many do.

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