A mysterious illness used to be the sort of thing I associated with a medical thriller or a historical documentary. At least, I did until I found myself with one of my own. Since January of 2013, I have been suffering with symptoms of vertigo. However, my physicians have yet to pinpoint a cause for why I am experiencing these symptoms.
My Illness and Its Symptoms
One afternoon, I became ill while at work. I felt dizzy, nauseated. About two hours later, the dizziness faded to an uncomfortable but manageable pulsing sensation on the left side of the back of my head. I felt fatigued, but no longer felt like vomiting. Then, it happened again, and again, and again.
The Medical Journey Begins
I saw a doctor. We went over my medical file together. He ordered a full blood work up. None of those tests found the cause of my symptoms, but they did rule out illnesses such as cancer, various forms of anemia, and diabetes.
Eventually, I received a diagnosis of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). My doctor ordered an MRI of the brain to rule out any type of tumor or lesion that could be causing the symptoms. The MRI was negative for both. He suggested that I get my eyes and ears examined to rule out any possible problems with those systems. My vision test revealed age-related vision changes. A trip to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) and an audiologist, however, led to a new potential diagnosis: might I possibly have Meniere’s disease?
What to Do When You Have a Medical Mystery on Your Hands
Once you experience a set of symptoms for a second time, it is time to consider that you may have a medical mystery in need of solving.
- Keep a medical journal. Write down everything you remember about the first time you felt ill. Write down everything you experience on subsequent times when you feel ill, including what you ate that day, what you were doing when you started to feel ill, how you felt while your symptoms were occurring, any treatments you received, and the duration of your symptoms. Include a list of medications you were taking for other conditions at the time of the episode, how much medication you took, and how often you took them.
- Go to see your doctor. Bring your medical journal with you and discuss your symptoms. Based on your symptoms, you doctor can rule out certain diagnoses, and narrow the field of other possible diagnoses.
- Take an active role in your care. This can help alleviate anxiety about being ill and not knowing why. I make copies of my medical test results and share them with all of my doctors. I discuss with them how my medications might interact with one another and/or my illness. I ask them to explain my symptoms and treatment options every time a test rules out, or confirms, a diagnosis.
- Research your illness at your local library, or online at the Merck Manual website. I suggest this particular site because I have used the physician’s desk copy as a reference many times when writing summaries of clients’ medical histories for their Social Security Disability cases. The information in the home edition is in an easy-to-read format, arranged according to body system.
These days, I keep meclizine tablets in my pocket, just in case my symptoms return. I await my date for testing to see if I have Meniere’s disease. Eventually, my doctors will make the correct diagnosis. Then, the healing will begin.
The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook (for Patients and Caregivers) at merckmanuals.com/home