Looking Beneath the Surface: A Guide to Understanding an Invisible Illness

By Christian Worstell

 
 

Have you heard of an invisible illness?

Around 10% of Americans have an invisible medical condition and about 96% of people with chronic medical conditions live with one. As the name implies, invisible illnesses are conditions that are not easily diagnosed. Many symptoms are generic and subjective, but when you put all the pieces together, a true condition exists.

Invisible illnesses are extremely complicated and difficult to diagnose and manage. Many of these conditions can never be found through routine exams like x-rays, blood tests, and biopsies.  

In some cases, individuals spend many years searching for answers and may even have to visit a handful of doctors before finding one who can figure it all out.

Some examples of invisible conditions include:

●      Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

●      Fibromyalgia

●      Depression and Mental Illness

●      Allergies

●      Food Intolerances

●      Arthritis

●      Cancer

●      Diabetes

●      Anxiety

●      Endometriosis

●      Polycystic ovary syndrome

●      Epilepsy

●      HIV/AIDS

●      Multiple Sclerosis

 

What people with invisible illnesses want you to know

What makes these conditions harder is that the symptoms of many invisible illnesses are inconsistent. Some days may be great, while others can be absolutely painful. On the more difficult days, it can be hard for people with invisible conditions to work and socialize, and your loved one may feel extremely isolated and lonely from time to time.

What's even worse is having to explain invisible symptoms and hope that a person can understand. Many people may not believe or understand your loved one’s illness. And your loved one is probably told often that they look fine. These words can be insulting and should be avoided.

Some invisible illnesses can be difficult to prove when necessary for work or school. People, even doctors sometimes, may consider people with invisible illnesses as just complainers. And since symptoms can be internal, there is usually a lack of sympathy from friends and family.

 

Helping a Loved One with an Invisible Illness  

There are many ways you can help your loved one.

Find a Good Physician

It’s important to find a doctor who listens and genuinely wants to help treat your loved one. If your loved one is a Medicare beneficiary, you can compare doctors near you who accept Medicare to find one who can help provide the care you need.

If your loved one’s physician doesn’t recognize the illness, or their insurance doesn’t provide adequate coverage for it, help them find one that does. Don’t let your loved one continue to see a doctor who doesn't believe their symptoms.

Do Your Research

Read up on your loved one's condition so that you can better understand their illness and how to best offer support.

Go to their Appointments

Lastly, you can attend doctor’s appointments with your loved one. It may help you realize that an illness does in fact exist. Plus, your loved one may really appreciate the support.  

Here are some additional ways you can be there for someone suffering from an invisible illness.

There are also many resources available for different aspects of dealing with an invisible condition that you can share with your loved one. 

Above all else, be there for your loved one. Make it a priority to practice patience and understanding. That’s one thing that doesn’t have to be invisible.

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