Labeling Gone Bad – When Not To Accept a Diagnosis

Imagine this scenario: A man goes to the doctor because he’s having chest pain. After a brief examination, the doctor proclaims, “You’ve got Chest Pain Syndrome. Just take some aspirin and you’ll feel better. Problem solved!”

What’s your gut reaction to this scenario? Does it make you cringe? Do you think the symptom diagnosis and treatment are acceptable? If you were the patient, would you stop off for aspirin at the 7-11 and call it a day? What if the patient were your spouse, parent, or child?

Obviously, this scenario is unacceptable on many levels:

1. A symptom is not an illness. Symptoms are clues your body sends to signal an illness or problem.

2. Simply treating a symptom will not make the problem go away.

If you thought the medical diagnosis and treatment plan of our chest pain patient was outlandish, you’d be surprised to learn that this scenario is actually more common than you think – especially for those with undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or chronic illnesses.

I was reminded of this phenomenon when I stumbled across a blog posting from a lady who was recently diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. After receiving the diagnosis of CFS, the poster stated that she would have to “learn to accept” her illness, and expressed relief about “coming to terms” with her medical diagnosis.

While I understand that labeling the illness brought peace for the poster and relieved her of the burden of continuing to search for an answer, I found her willingness to accept the label troubling. After reading the blog, my first reaction was to call the poster (of course, I couldn’t) and say, “Please don’t give up now.” In my opinion, CFS is probably one of the most meaningless diagnoses around. What benefit could possibly be gained by telling someone that they’re tired all the time when that’s why they sought medical attention in the first place? Chronic fatigue is simply a symptom that’s caused by an underlying condition, and a medical diagnosis of “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” falls short of discovering the root cause.

I believe that our society has become one of immediate gratification – especially when it comes to fixing ailments. People often forget that an illness doesn’t manifest overnight. We have to learn to be in tune with our body and to read the clues and messages (symptoms) it sends so that we don’t let anything slip by.

So what would I recommend to the poster? As a Good Health Coach, I would tell her to take the diagnosis and file it away with the rest of her medical information and continue her quest to discover the root cause. I would also recommend developing a Wellness Plan that’s unique for her health habits and illness. Remember, you don’t have to accept the label of your diagnosis. You’d be surprised by how much control you really have over your health once you decide to take it.


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