Do you have constant aches and pains or another physical complaint? And doctors can’t seem to find anything?

Medically unexplained symptoms can take a mental as well as physical toll.

What are medically unexplained symptoms?

Medically unexplained symptoms, or 'MUS' for short, are physical issues that have been bothering you for several weeks or more, but which doctors and medical tests can’t find the cause of.

It doesn’t mean that your physical suffering isn’t real or isn’t making your life difficult. It just means that, unfortunately, it’s not yet easily understood by known science and doctors.

It can feel lonely and overwhelming to seek help but not get the response you expected. But you are not alone. It’s estimated by the NHS that up to 45% of visits to GPs are over medically unexplained symptoms.

What are common MUS?

The most common cases of medically unexplained symptoms involve one or several of the following:

  • changes to vision
  • dizziness
  • exhaustion
  • feeling shaky or having tremors
  • headaches
  • heart palpitations and chest pain
  • joint pain
  • nausea
  • random aches and pains
  • tingling in your extremities
  • upset stomach.

Am I making up my symptoms?

Again, no. But do be sure to give your doctors any information that could help, such as if you are taking any medication, natural medicine, or recreational drugs. These can all affect your physical wellbeing.

It’s also important important to mention any mental health issues. It’s increasingly understood that there is a strong connection between mental and physical health. The brain does, after all, regulate our emotions and control our physical pain and responses.

MUS and mental health

Depression and grief cause very real and even debilitating fatigue, and possibly changes in appetite.

Anxiety causes muscle tension, headaches, heart palpitations, and stomach upset.

Childhood trauma has been linked to adult pain and illness, and to medically unexplained symptoms.

A 2014 study looking at the health of women who had been physically or sexually abused as a child found they suffered a higher rate of all sorts of health troubles, including back pain, bad headaches, exhaustion, stomach pain and upsets, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

New illnesses for new problems

Physical illness isn’t set in stone. New illnesses come up and take time to understand (Covid-19 being a case in point).

There has been a marked rise in certain groupings of medically unexplained symptoms in the last few decades, which has led to more research and the creation of new diagnoses. These include irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome (also called CFS or ME) and fibromyalgia.

If your medically unexplained symptoms are leaving you feeling unheard, remember that it might just be that science hasn’t caught up with your set of symptoms.

And if you feel you need to have another opinion, listen to your own instincts and insist on a new specialist.

What can I do if I have medically unexplained symptoms?

Again, be very honest with your doctors about all possible contributors to your physical pain, including recreational drugs and mental health issues.

It can help to keep a careful diary of your symptoms, alongside with how you feel as you have the symptoms.

It’s recommended when you suffer MUS to focus on general wellbeing. This means cleaning up your diet, taking exercise, working on your sleep hygiene, and stopping bad habits like drinking too much alcohol.

But also consider things that help your mental health. Stress is found to make physical pain worse.

  • choose to be around others who support you and help you feel good
  • do activities that energise over deplete you
  • say no to things you don't want to do
  • prioritise time out for yourself if you need it.

Does therapy help unexplained medical symptoms?

Yes, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is recommended by the NHS.

CBT therapy helps you manage the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It means that a negative thought, such as about your physical pain, will be less likely to throw you into a sense of helplessness that sees you do things that make you feel worse instead of better.

Need unbiased support with your medically unexplained symptoms? Find a therapist you like at a price that suits your budget today and finally feel heard.

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