Hello everyone. I apologize for this being long.
I have been lurking through these forums for many months while I have attempted to make sense of the physical symptoms I have been experiencing, and have found them to be incredibly helpful. Today, with a doctor's appointment approaching, I have decided to step up and delurk. I hope I can fit in nicely to this community.
To provide background, I was diagnosed with psychiatric illness, including multiple anxiety disorders, during childhood and am thus well-acquainted with how disabling and real these conditions are. I understand, from first hand experience, that living in a constant state of hypervigilance can take a toll of one's body and that a fear of suffering from chronic, sometimes terminal autoimmune conditions is a classic sign of anxiety. Consequently, I actually experience a fear of being a hypochondriac and have always been cautious of reporting medical symptoms to physicians. I am also aware, however, of how poorly physicians treat you once they learn that you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and how common it is for physical illness to be missed in patients with psychiatric illness because medical professionals simply won't believe them. Thus, I also have a fear that, if I do have a physical illness, a doctor will miss it and am often more defensive than most patients because of that. All this leads to a very odd relationship with medical professionals, in which I both am scared to report any symptom to them and yet feel compelled to make sure every one is thoroughly, objectively checked out to rule out stigma. Needless to say, I've been around the mental health world for quite some time, and thought that I had a handle on all its and outs.
Then, a couple years ago, I began to experience a series of vague, seemingly unrelated symptoms. Some popped up suddenly, like chest pain and tightness, while others have crept up more slowly, like a perceived feeling of weakness and unsteady gait. This has led to a multiple year journey of seeing doctors for these symptoms in a series of disconnected appointments and mixed results. While some doctors have been firm in their belief that it is "only" anxiety (am I the only one that seethes at that phrase? Spend a day in my head, thankyouverymuch), others have reported oddities but never enough to confirm a diagnosis. In the meantime, these symptoms have ravaged my relationships. I am at risk of losing people who are very special to me -- the guardians who have cared for me after my first family fell apart (I'm seventeen, for context) -- because they believe that I am making deliberate attempts to seek negative attention and am not working to fix it. My symptoms are also more severe than they ever have been, and I recently had a scary episode where I could not bear weight on my legs, and kept dropping, full-force, every few steps, but this cleared in less than twelve hours; random, sudden, and frightening.
I am at the last straw. If the symptoms do not abate or a definite conclusion reached on them, I will likely lose the people I love and my ability to pursue my academic and career goals will be impacted. I have made a pact with myself: this will be my last visit. If there is a neurological cause to the symptoms that I am experiencing, it will show up on a physical and neurological exam. There is no way around it. While I have seen more than one doctor since the onset of symptoms, 2011 was the last time I had a neurological exam. That is what I want and I plan on making it clear to the physician that, unless there is an abnormality on that exam, I cannot afford further specialist referrals or testing. If he prescribes either, it should not be to reassure me, but because it is warranted. My symptoms are no longer vague and in the background...they are clear and at the forefront of my life.
Yet, reading these boards has made me doubt in both directions. On one hand, it has reminded me that I suffer from anxiety, and neurological-like symptoms and worry about MS and the like is classic. Reading your posts have shocked me. I knew that anxiety could be physical, but I never realized how deeply physical it could be until I read A Thread For Newcomers Worried about Multiple Sclerosis and posts by a member called sixpack. At the same time, some of the descriptors you have used to reassure people they do not have MS...have made me concerned that I do. Medical appointments are expensive and I will be responsible for paying for this one, likely out of my college fund/deceased mother's 401k. If there's not a reason to be concerned, this is a major waste. At the same time, I have been searching for answers for so long, that not making this last effort and seeing it through will leave me without any resolution and the nagging sense that I should do more. And, of course, if there is a problem, not investing in it will cost more in the long run. I am torn on what to do. This decision seems so big, and it is mine alone to make. I'm not used to that.
Question One:Are there any tell-tale indicators that one is suffering from health anxiety?
I understand that nobody on the board can definitively tell me that I shouldn't see a doctor. I have seen, however, that there are some experienced members on here who seem to have noticed consistent differences between HA and MS/other neuro nastys in regards to symptom severity, onset and development, and consistency of symptoms. Those differences are what I am looking for. In addition, if someone has experienced the same patterns of symptoms that I have and been deemed physically healthy, those stories are important. Likewise, if someone has known someone with MS who has experienced what I have, then that would also be useful.
Basically, any information or experience you can give me to help me make this decision will be appreciated immensely.
I am wary of posting a clear list of symptoms as not to trigger members who are still in the thick of it. I have, however, attached pictures that I took of the list I will give to my doctor. If they think it will be useful, I ask that members who have come out the other side take a look and voice your perspective (read in order of photo1, photo2, photo3, photo4). I also ask that, please, anybody who is anxious and still struggling severely with HA not to look at it. I know I can't stop you, but protect your health. Getting better is the goal for all of us. (I apologize for the poor quality. I failed to save the original .doc file)
Question Two: Can HA actually later the results of a neuro exam?
Here's my concern: I know what a neuro exam, even a basic one given by a PCP, entails. I know what's not normal. Is it possible that, subconsciously, the HA will produce a false positive? Can it be that strong that tests used to determine balance, strength, sensory systems and the like will not be accurate? I am scared that, if this is possible, I will only feel reassured by an MRI, EMG, or Evoked Response test, and I already made a firm commitment not to undergo those tests unless a physical exam points to an abnormality. This is my nightmare right now. I have researched pubmed and the like, but have been unable to find any publications discussing the impact of anxiety on a neuro exam.
Question Three: Incontinence I am becoming increasingly incontinent, and I am humiliated. It happened for the first time at school the other day: sudden urgency, then pretty major leakage. My pants were wet. I got cleaned up and nobody noticed, but it's getting the point where I don't want to leave the house without a menstrual pad on in case I leak, and am only counting the days until I have a full accident. I have been researching, but have only found articles that state that incontinent people are anxious (not vice versa), incontinent people have major medical conditions, or incontinent women have undergone changes I'm years away from. Has anyone experienced this? If you have, any advice? As I said, so embarrassing.