Six "Common" Medical Conditions That Don't Actually Exist

Six "Common" Medical Conditions That Don't Actually Exist
Kim Weimer/The Intelligencer via AP
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Hundreds of years ago, people from all over the world dealt with suppressed gout, status lymphaticus, intestinal autointoxication, and ovariomania. Except that they didn't. None of these commonly diagnosed diseases ever existed. They were manufactured with bad information and shouted into prominence by vocal proponents, before eventually being laid to rest with scientific evidence.

You might think that with more widespread and advanced methods of attaining knowledge, we've advanced beyond the bygone era of phony maladies, but we haven't. Not even close. There's more misinformation available than ever before. Eager hucksters fight to convince the populace that everyday aches and pains aren't simply "symptoms of life," but rather are signs of insidious syndromes that require treatment. Their treatments.

"If you can make people worry about a nonexistent problem, something that they were not previously aware of and don’t understand, they might buy your solution just to relieve their worry," Dr. Steven Novella summarized at Science-Based Medicine.

Here are a few of today's most common fake illnesses.

Candidiasis Hypersensitivity. Nine out of ten humans have a specific fungus living on their body, and while that sounds gross, it's actually okay! Candida albicans is almost always a commensal organism, benefiting from the home that we provide while not affecting us in any way. In those with compromised immune systems, the fungus can sometimes overstay its welcome, which is when doctors step in to quell the uprising with medication.

Still, to some alternative health practitioners, Candida is an unwelcome loiterer, and an opportunity to make a buck. Dr. William Crook (whose surname hinted at his intentions) originally demonized it back in the 1980s with a book, The Yeast Connection. In it, he blamed a host of common maladies on the fungus, and promoted a diet and lifestyle program to assuage the symptoms it supposedly causes. 

There has never been any evidence to support Crook's claims, and The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology does not recognize the existence of Candidiasis hypersensitivity.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. "Gluten sensitivity" is undoubtedly the dietary disease du jour. Avoiding the protein, which is found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley, can supposedly rid sufferers of fatigue, upset stomach, headaches, and nausea. To people afflicted with Celiac disease, avoiding gluten can certainly help, but to those without the condition, avoiding gluten will serve only as a placebo.

To date, no studies have found conclusive evidence that gluten sensitivity is a genuine medical condition.

Morgellons. In 2001, Mary Leitao's two-year-old son developed a few sores and complained of "bugs." When Leitao examined her son's sores under a microscope, she found a number of multicolored, wispy fibers in the vicinity. Every doctor she visited did not find anything pernicious about her son's sores, but Leitao wouldn't accept their diagnoses. She was convinced her son had a rare and nefarious condition.

Over the ensuing years, various media outlets covered Leitao's neurotic cries. Eventually, enough people thought that they, too, suffered from the mysterious malady that the Centers for Disease Control was forced to commission a $600,000 review to study it. Analyzing 115 supposed sufferers over three years, the researchers determined that the lesions likely resulted from compulsive scratching, and that the strings "sprouting" from the sores were nothing more than clothes fibers. Without physical evidence for its existence, Morgellons is more likely an offshoot of paranoid delusions rather than a real condition.

To cope with Morgellons, Mayo Clinic recommends patience and keeping an open mind.

"Consider various causes for your signs and symptoms and discuss your doctor's recommendations for treatment — which may include long-term mental health therapy."

Wilson's Thyroid Syndrome. If you're looking to make some extra money in the medical profession, inventing a fake syndrome that can manifest as "virtually every symptom known to man" is a good way to do it. Whenever a patient suffers from a vague infirmity like fatigue, headache, irritability, decreased memory, low sex drive, or weight gain, you can simply prescribe your own, unique treatment. If any of the fleeting symptoms resolve themselves (as they are sure to do), you can take credit!

That's exactly what E. Dennis Wilson did back in 1990. He insists that his self-titled syndrome is caused by low body temperature and slightly impaired thyroid function and recommends treatment with the hormone triiodothyronine.

The American Thyroid Association has reviewed Wilson's claims and found no evidence that his disease exists. In 1992, Wilson was disciplined by the Florida Board of Medicine for promoting his "phony diagnosis." That discipline included a six-month suspension of his medical license, a $10,000 fine, and that he submit to psychological testing.

Adrenal Fatigue. Coined by a chiropractor, adrenal fatigue seems to run off the juvenile notion that because you can get tired, specific body parts can, too. In the case of this fabricated disease, the lazy do-nothings drained of power are your adrenal glands, resting just above the kidneys.

Alternative health practitioners love to say that the chronic stress of modern life has tired out your poor adrenals, but there's no evidence that this is the case. More often than not, they'll recommend unregulated supplements to give your glands a boost. The Endocrine Society advises "not to waste precious time" with the diagnosis or with associated supplements.

Chronic Lyme Disease. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection attained via the bite of a tick. But did you know that you can be infected with chronic Lyme disease if, according to Suzy Cohen, "you’ve ever been for a walk in the woods, laid in the grass, live in or visited a Lyme-endemic area, or have a pet cat or dog..."? Scientists didn't know that either!

That's because chronic Lyme disease doesn't exist. For patients who've been infected with genuine Lyme disease and who aren't treated properly, symptoms like shooting pains, arthritis of the knees, and cognitive impairments can take hold. But if you've never been infected, you can't blame Lyme.

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