functional symptoms

Physical Symptoms without Physical Disease – Nancy

A new website designed for people experiencing physical symptoms that are not traceable to physical disease offers clear, scientific information, and also hope for those patients who sometimes spend years in the medical system trying to get relief for pain and other symptoms only to be told that nothing is wrong. The site refers to these symptoms as “functional symptoms.” As wikipedia notes, “A functional symptom is a medical symptom in an individual which is very broadly conceived as arising from a problem in nervous system ‘functioning’ and not due to a structural or pathologically defined disease cause.”

A private, no-advertising site run by Dr Jon Stone MBChB FRCP PhD, Consultant Neurologist and Honorary Reader in Neurology, University of Edinburgh, U.K., the site writes about these physical symptoms in a language that is helpful rather than dismissive…

  • For all of the functional symptoms described on this website, the basic answer to this is that there is a problem in the function of the nervous system.
  • For symptoms like weakness and movement disorder, there is a problem with the way the brain is sending messages to the body
  • For symptoms like numbness and pain there is a problem with the way the brain is receiving messages from the body.
  • During dissociative seizures or dissociative symptoms, the brain is in a trance like state, a bit like hypnosis.

The site provides links to medical studies that may be useful to show to your physician, but it is also notable for offering stories of real people with unexplained symptoms, many of whom required years to get a clear diagnosis and treatment plan.

Another way of thinking about functional symptoms is illustrated by the wikipedia article on the topic… This category of symptoms almost certainly includes some symptoms that are not caused by the functioning of the brain but whose source is still unknown. Part of the challenge for those suffering from physical symptoms which a reasonable effort has failed to diagnose, is that there is inevitably some uncertainty about the source of the symptoms.

Dr. Stone’s last word for those struggling with these symptoms is: Remember, your symptoms are real even if doctors and others make you feel as if they are not!

Our brain and nervous system are incredibly complex and there is still much that is not known or understood about their functioning.  We should all be encouraged to keep on trying to find a way forward even if what we are experiencing is not well understood by the medical practitioners we may consult.