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Autoimmune Disease – It Isn’t All In Your Head

Jennifer Ganey, CHHC, Contributor
Thyroid Nation

Autoimmune Connection To Depression

“I think you are depressed.”

Oh these words. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard women tell me this was their doctor’s response when they sought help for chronic fatigue, brain fog, body aches, etc. I heard it myself multiple times. Not know better at 22, I took Zoloft. I also tried prescription Ibrophen, Imatrex, Meclazine, Bacolfen and likely other medications that I cannot currently recall. Doctors didn’t really know why I suffered from chronic vertigo and fatigue, but they were not about to tell me that.

Sadly, my story is all too common. Autoimmune disease affects millions of Americans, 78% of whom are women. It often takes nearly a decade for women to get a diagnosis of autoimmune disease. How many times to you think she heard that the symptoms were all in her head before then. I don’t know how often I heard that. I do know that I would get frustrated and give up on medical help until my husband could convince me to try again. The day a physician told me he believed me, I nearly broke down in tears.

I wasn’t crazy, and neither are all of the women who have yet to find the help they need.

If autoimmune disease was more prevalent in men, would doctors respond differently?

It is hard to know for sure, though I suspect not. Pharmaceutical companies make a lot of money on chronic illness. Then again, Victorian women were often diagnosed with “vapors” and told to go home.

Are we the weaker sex, no, but we are different. There has been a great deal of research showing that women are not as confident in confrontational situations as men. Sadly, visiting your physician can be such a situation. In a system that encourages doctors to get patients in and out quickly, it can be tough to get your voice heard.

So what is a girl to do? Here are a few strategies I have found helpful:

1). Take a List – Walk into your appointment with a list of questions and concerns. If it is a 15-minute appointment you will need to stick to the top two or three issues. If you have a more serious or chronic issue that you are trying to deal with, schedule a longer appointment. This list will help you and the doctor focus on the issues that are most important to you. It will also give you confidence that you are in control of your own health.

2). Take a Friend — A recently went to the doctor with a friend. She felt that her stress Autoimmune-Disease-It-Isnt-All-In-Your-Headlevel and lack of confidence in medical personnel she had previous contact with would make it difficult for her to get the help she wanted. This is common as most of us are taught from a young age not to question authority figures. Having a friend hold the list of questions to make sure all are answered can be a great comfort.

3). Do Your Own Research – Do some research about your symptoms and conditions before your appointment so you know what questions to ask and what type of responses you might expect. Having some initial knowledge can be a huge confidence builder.

4). Find a New Doctor – If your needs are not being met, look for a new doctor. Think of the doctor as an experienced partner in your health, not the sole decision-maker. Shop around and don’t be afraid to interview several doctors until you find someone who is a good match for you. Many of us with autoimmune disease find we get home support from functional or integrative medicine practitioners

This is your body and your health. Autoimmune disease isn’t all in your head. Empower yourself down to what you need to thrive.

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About the Author

Jennifer-GaneyJennifer Ganey, CHHC  Found positive signs with her chronic illness when she first saw an integrative medicine doctor. These first positive signs of healing fueled both her hopes and her curiosity. “Why had I never learned that what I ate and how I dealt with stress might have an impact on my health? Would these same changes help others?” All of the questions eventually led her to the Institute of Institute for Integrative Nutrition and a passion to help other women to lead healthy lives for themselves and their families. Not only does she now have the vitality to be the kind of mother she wants to be, she has also found her life’s purpose. Find her at

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