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Patient activism and the struggle for diagnosis


Gulf War illnesses and other medically unexplained
physical symptoms in the US.

Zavestoski S, Brown P, McCormick S, Mayer B, D'Ottavi M, Lucove JC.

Department of Sociology, University of San Francisco, 2130 Fulton Street, 94117-1080, San Francisco, CA, USA

We examine Gulf War illnesses-which include the fatigue, joint pain, dermatitis, headaches, memory loss, blurred vision, diarrhea, and other symptoms reported by Gulf War veterans-in relation to other medically unexplained physical symptoms such as multiple chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. Our intent is to examine the diagnosis negotiations involved in these mysterious diseases, by showing the different forms of legitimacy involved in such interactions. Factors involved in diagnostic legitimacy are: diagnostic legitimacy in the medical community, lay acceptance of the diagnosis, uncertainty in looking for causes, and social mobilization. We conclude by noting that research may not be able to find any cause for these diseases/conditions; hence, it may be necessary to embrace medical uncertainty, and also to accept patient experience in order to facilitate diagnosis, treatment, and recovery process. Such a change can alter patients' expectations and taken-for-granted assumptions about medicine, and perhaps in turn reduce the frequency with which dissatisfied individuals form illness groups that mobilize to challenge what they see as an unresponsive medical system.

PMID: 14572929 [PubMed - in process]




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