Imaginary Illnesses


In the television show Better Call Saul, Chuck McGill (played by Michael McKean) suffers from an illness known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) and, as such, eschews electricity at all cost even to the point of never leaving his house without his trusty “space blanket.” Though the character is fictional, the issue of EHS is one that an increasing number of people suffer from. Unfortunately for sufferers of EHS, there illness is almost certainly an imagined one.

EHS or Wi-Fi Allergy as it is sometimes referred to is not an actual medical diagnosis but, rather, represents one in a growing list of self-diagnosed imaginary illnesses. The World Health Organization has insisted that there is no scientific basis to link EHS with electromagnetic frequency exposure and politely enough points to the lacking veracity of the condition by stating that:

EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms that differ from individual to individual. The symptoms are certainly real and can vary widely in their severity. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual.

It’s not that no one knows what is causing approximately 4% of the population of the United Kingdom, and (according to one study) 3% of Californians to claim to have EHS. The only scientifically demonstrated causal factor for EHS has been the ‘Nocebo Effect’ or the opposite of the Placebo Effect, whereby the suggestion of a perceived harmful element produces the perception of illness. The Nocebo Effect tends to account for symptoms being perceived where there is only the suggestion of electromagnetic frequency, as has been demonstrated in 46 double blind studies of EHS sufferers.

Scientists, having been able to show the true nature of EHS, have failed to show that it is a mental trick rather than an environmental illness for several reasons; a lack of media savvy on the issue, politicians and news agencies have frequently misrepresented the problem, and (in regular scientific fashion) a lack of public outreach to counteract the misunderstanding. Scientists now refer to EHS as ‘Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields’ or IEI-EMF, as if planning to deliberately bore and dissuade the general public from further informing themselves.

In an effort to counteract the bore-ification of the facts, lets have some fun with them and become more health-savvy in the process.

Instead of discussing EHS or IEI-EMF, lets have a more active conversation about the Nocebo Effect.

In a spate of recent state sponsored studies, the imagined illness of ‘Wind Turbine Illness‘ has developed, leading to a proposed $3.3 Million study in Australia. Let’s write grant proposals to study the Nocebo Effect with their money.

Educate yourself about the various symptoms that are regularly somatized, or transferred from mental state to physical body. These include nausea, back pain, chest pain, dizziness and tiredness/lethargy. If you experience all these, and are living a stressful or mentally distressing lifestyle it is likely that this is the cause and not some mystery allergy.

I jokingly referred to my own occasional hypochondria as WebMD disorder. I later learned that Med Students, as they learned of new illnesses began to believe that they were afflicted with said disorders; later, this phenomenon was dubbed ‘Med School Syndrome.’ If Med Students were susceptible, surely the general public is. With no small amount of irony, WebMD published an article on ‘Cyberchondria‘ announcing “the Internet makes Hypochondria worse.”

If you have a headache and you are pretty sure it’s something serious, unless you have actually been diagnosed or are allergic to aspirin … take an aspirin. Relax. Log off! Take a break from the internet.

Alternatively, if you know someone who is suffering from the Nocebo Effect, it is often heart wrenching to realize how deep the perception of an imagined illness, such as EHS, can be. Be patient. Support their transition, through professional interventions, back to a more accurate perception of reality.





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