#20 “A rose by any other name…”: The importance of the name of an illness

Written by Dr. Schubiner on February 12, 2009 – 5:06 pm -

Naming an illness can be one of the most critical aspects of caring for someone, especially if the illness falls into the category of stress-related illnesses.  It is a universal truth that anyone with medical symptoms wants and in fact, needs to know what is causing it.  So often in modern medicine, our answer is “We don’t know.”  We don’t know why some people get cancer and others don’t.  Many people with heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels and no obvious risk factors for heart disease.

For stress related illnesses, such as migraine and tension headaches, fibromyalgia, TMJ syndrome, irritable bowel and bladder syndromes, fatigue, and most people with chronic neck and back pain, it is absolutely critical to be able to name the illness correctly.  Doctors who are unfamiliar with the powerful role the mind has in being able to produce significant and sometimes severe physical symptoms will always label the illness as a purely physical one.  Hence, we see the proliferation of illnesses named as a syndrome or with a description that doesn’t help the person understand the true underlying cause of the illness.  Fibromyalgia is a good example of a severe syndrome who’s name literally means “pain in muscles and tendons.”  Unfortunately, people with this disorder already know that they have pain.  The name helps to legitimize the disorder, but it doesn’t help to solve the problem of helping them get rid of their pain.  In fact, the name can become a prison of sorts and can give them the impression that they will always be in pain, because the medication and physical therapies usually do not work. 

Therefore, for stress-related illnesses in which there is no tissue destruction in the body (e.g. not cancer, or stroke, or heart disease, or diabetes, or lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis), it can be extremely helpful to learn that one actually has a mind body issue, which Dr. Sarno terms Tension Myositis Syndrome, while I tend to use the term, Mind Body Syndrome.  These terms mean the same thing; that the symptoms are caused by reactions in the body to stress and emotions, which can be both conscious and/or subconscious.  The reason I don’t use TMS as often is that it implies some inflammation in the muscles (the definition of myositis), and there is no inflammation in the muscles in TMS/MBS.  Dr. Sarno has started to use the term, Tension Myoneural Syndrome more recently, which keeps the same letters of TMS, but takes out the inflammation reference.   Read more »

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