DEAR DR. ROACH: For two years, I have had symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Like many of my fellow sufferers, I continually feel bad, but no test can confirm my diagnosis.
Because of this and other factors, I am looking at “psychosomatic illness” as a cause. CFS would lend itself to such a diagnosis. Any information you could offer would be appreciated. — R.S.
ANSWER: The term “psychosomatic” simply means “mind and body.” It is clear to me that there is no significant disease of the body that does not affect the mind, at least to some extent. And there is no serious condition that affects the mind where the body does not suffer in some way. From that perspective, all diseases are psychosomatic.
However, the term is used in everyday language to describe a person with nothing wrong with the body, whose symptoms are due entirely to emotions. It’s very frustrating, since it implies that a person’s physical symptoms are due to some weakness in his or her character.
This is certainly not the case with chronic fatigue syndrome. The recommendation now is to call it “systemic exertion intolerance disease,” which is a better explanation of the condition. The Institute of Medicine proposed new criteria for diagnosing SEID (one place to read about this report is at https://tinyurl.com/SEID-IOM). While there is not yet a blood test to confirm the diagnosis, researchers at Stanford recently reported a pattern of inflammatory markers that may help confirm and quantify the severity of this condition.
A full description of this complex illness is beyond the scope of this column. Although there is no cure, there are a variety of treatments available. I must caution against the over-aggressive use of exercise programs, which can worsen symptoms.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I wear a fitness tracker 24/7. Any health risks? — C.P.
ANSWER: There are several kinds of fitness trackers, ranging from devices that measure activity (such as steps and stairs) to devices that also measure heart rate and precise location via GPS. They can be worn as a bracelet or watch, or carried in the pocket or elsewhere. None of this electronic activity is in any way harmful.
I have seen only two kinds of health risks from trackers. The first is a skin reaction to the device itself. This happens in people who are sensitive, and it’s not uncommon. It may happen right away or as the bracelet wears.
The second is that some people overdo it. These devices are designed to help motivate people to more activity, and that effect is variable: Some people have no effect; many people get a benefit; and a few people overdo it.
DR. ROACH WRITES: A recent column on lip burning and pain generated many suggestions from readers with similar symptoms. Advice included: repeated applications of zinc oxide cream or petrolatum (Vaseline); B-12 tablets (get your level tested first, though); avoiding triggers, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (present in many toothpastes) and fruits like pineapple and melon. As always, I appreciate my readers who take the time to write in, and I am touched by the desire to help others with their experiences.
Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.