MBS Blog #18–The role of triggers

The role of triggers: Holidays and headaches

As the holiday season approaches, I am reminded of the importance of things that trigger MBS symptoms.  I once heard a description of families during the holidays as being, “just the way they are, only more so.”  It is quite obvious that certain events and times of the year can cause stress that is clearly recognized by our conscious minds, for example, “I have so many things to do that I can’t find a moment to relax.”  However, it is also important to realize that stress is often not recognized, and we would call that subconscious stress.  “It seems like I always get sick this time of year, but I don’t know why?”  Symptoms that occur at times like this may be caused by underlying feelings about certain family events, or missing certain family members who are not present, or stressful memories that are associated with the holiday season. 

I see this all the time in my MBS practice.  In fact, one of the most important aspects of successful MBS treatment is the ability of the person with MBS to recognize which triggers are commonly associated with their symptoms, to understand that these triggers are not actually causing the symptoms in a physical sense (more about this point in a moment), and to have the courage to actively overcome these triggers. 

What is the definition of a trigger?   Continue reading

MBS#17–Why symptoms move and change? A look at symptom substitution

Symptom substitution:  Why do MBS symptoms move and change over time?

Everyone who has MBS/TMS or works with people who have this syndrome knows about symptom substitution, which Dr. Sarno calls the symptom imperative.  Freud wrote about it many years ago.  For the purposes of MBS/TMS, it basically means that the manifestations of MBS/TMS can vary over time.  They can move, shift or completely change within minutes, days or weeks.  I had a lady in one of my classes who came in with low back pain for seven years.  After two weeks in the class, her low back pain was completely gone, but she had developed a pain in her neck.  I had a 15 year old in one of my classes whose symptoms shifted over time from hip pain, to headaches, to chest pain, to loss of movement of his arm and leg (known as a conversion disorder in medical terminology, i.e. paralysis due to psychological, rather than physical, factors), to leg pain to fainting spells.  I know someone who had groin pain, which morphed into back pain, then shifted into anxiety and OCD symptoms and then back again to the pain.  It is amazing to watch MBS/TMS symptoms shift from day to day and week to week, even sometimes from minute to minute.  This is especially interesting to see that the symptoms often involve both “physical” and “psychological” symptoms.  This confirms that MBS/TMS can cause both sets of symptoms, such as pain and anxiety, diarrhea and OCD, urinary frequency and depression, rapid heart rate and fatigue.

When we see this kind of symptom substitution, we can usually easily confirm that the cause of this is truly MBS/TMS.  There are very few medical diseases that have this type of pattern and therefore when we see this we are confident that the correct diagnosis is MBS/TMS, once serious medical conditions are ruled out.  The reason symptoms can come and go, alter and change, or transform into new symptoms is that they are all caused by the same underlying physiological issues.  These pathways are described in earlier blogs and consist of activation of the amgydala (emotional memory center), the anterior portion of the cingulate cortex (amplifies pain due to fear, worry and frustration), and the autonomic nervous system (activates the fight, flight or freeze reaction).  These cause a variety of changes in the brain and body such as increase in muscle tension or muscle spasm, alteration or spasm of muscles in the bowel or urinary tract, activating or inhibiting nerve signals that control our activity and feelings.  Once these nerve pathways get activated, they tend to quickly become sensitized and then “wired” to produce learned connections that develop a life of their own and can persist for months, years or even decades unless they are stopped by MBS/TMS therapy.  Note that these are physiological changes, i.e. temporary alterations that do not produce tissue destruction or damage, as opposed to pathological changes, such as cancer or heart disease.

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MBS #16–Why does MBS occur more commonly in women?



Gender issues and MBS—Why does MBS occur more commonly in women?–MBS Blog #16


Scientists have known for many years that women are more likely to develop certain illnesses, which we now understand to be caused by Mind Body Syndrome.  These disorders are irritable bowel syndrome and migraine headaches, which are seen about three times more frequently in women than in men.  Irritable bladder syndrome (christened Interstitial cystitis by modern medicine), TMJ disorder and fibromyalgia are diagnosed in women about 4 to 6 times more commonly than in men.  An interesting comparison is back pain, which is seen equally between women and men (actually woman even have slightly higher rates of low back pain than do men; approximately 29% in women versus 25% in men).  Researchers have been silent for the most part on why these differences occur.  The usual fall back position is that it must be genetic.  But these are not primarily genetic disorders (see MBS blog #8 for details on the genetic aspects of MBS).  They are learned and they develop due to stress and emotional reactions to stress over a lifetime. 


I have been pondering the discrepancy between women and men in the MBS set of disorders and I have some thoughts that might help to explain the differences.  I must state at the outset that no one really knows the answer and my thoughts are just that; thoughts to get the field started, so that hopefully we can learn enough to make some definitive conclusions at some point.


First of all, we know that certain factors lead to the development of MBS.  Those are who are exposed to childhood traumas, such as emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse, fear, shame and guilt are particularly susceptible to MBS later in life.  The reason for that appears to be a resetting of the autonomic nervous system to become over-reactive.  When stresses occur in our lives during situations in which we are powerless and vulnerable, they are more likely to create MBS.  It is not only the life stresses that create MBS, but it is also the pressures that people put upon themselves; these internal pressures are extremely important as they magnify the life stresses greatly and are difficult to get away from since they are self-imposed.  Finally, there are certain societal expectations and learned “sickness roles” that can play a part in the development of MBS.

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