Why am I sick? - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Why am I sick?

(NBC Newschannel) - Millions of Americans struggle with fears of being sick, and spend years searching for a diagnosis.

Valerie Duffy used to be afraid every time she sat down to eat.

"I always just had horrible stomach aches," she said.

For Greg Shea, even walking a line was impossible four years ago.

"Walking to the point that I had to use a wheelchair," he said. "It was a very scary time, because you just didn't know what was wrong."

All three of them couldn't figure out what was wrong with them.

It turned out Duffy had celiac disease, where the immune system attacks the small intestine when she eats food containing gluten.

Looking back, she realizes she had it all her life.

She's now on a gluten-free diet.

"You trace it back and it just all makes sense," she said.

Abbate was initially diagnosed with four different viruses at first, but then found out she has fibromyalgia. Symptoms include pain, fatigue, sleeplessness and fever.

No one knows what causes it but it strikes nearly 10 times as many women as men.

Abbate's doctor, Dr. Patrick Massey, relieves her fatigue with a mixture of B vitamins and minerals.

He said so many doctors depend on lab tests to diagnose diseases that they are hard to pinpoint.

"With fibromyalgia, there's really no blood test, no radiologic test -- there's really nothing other than a physical exam and the history that would tell us that the patient has fibromyalgia," Massey said.

Shea's doctor, Dr. Dusan Stefoski, figured out he has multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the immune system attacks the body.

The symptoms can be elusive, sometimes mimicking other diseases, and even disappearing before they can be diagnosed.

"Years go by and MS can progress stealthily under the surface, where the person doesn't feel much and the doctors may not see anything," Stefoski said.

Fortunately, Shea now knows what he has, and benefits from a growing list of new medications.
Two other often-misdiagnosed conditions are lupus and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Lupus can attack so many parts of the body and the symptoms are confusingly broad.

With chronic fatigue syndrome, the only consistent physical sign is extreme exhaustion. For now, there are no diagnostic lab tests.
But for people like Abbate, who finally have a diagnosis, the one thing that really helped was refusing to give up.

"If a doctor says that there's no such thing, walk out of the office," she said. "Because there are doctors who will treat you."

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