Saturday, March 26, 2011

Retirement Issues - Retirochondria

So many people are self-diagnosing by Googling their health symptoms that medical professionals have coined a new term: “cyberchondriacs.” It describes those who get so immersed in health-related research online that they’re sure they have dozens of ailments.

In my week of retirement I’m already more in tune with my body’s aches and pains than when I was going to an office. Either our house is an environmental hazard, or the leisure time that retirement affords leads to physical introspection along with psychological.

Of course, there is a third possibility. Like many new retirees, I’m watching more TV. This will wear thin pretty quickly, but for now, I’m doing it just because I can. It seems every third commercial is for a remedy for some health issue. During a few of these commercials, I’ve noted that I have at least one of the symptoms described.

I’m then compelled to go online to learn more about whether my symptoms (morning stiffness and fatigue, for example) mean I have fibromyalgia (for example) or some other ailment for which treatment is less pricey. This leads to more research, and a sizable list of conditions that cause stiffness, fatigue and memory problems. (I forgot to mention that one.)

Although many of these are normal signs of aging, I’m drawn to the more exotic explanations. Simply put, I’m at risk of becoming a “retirochondriac.” I’m sure there are thousands like me out there, perhaps too ashamed to admit it. Know that you are not alone. Step into the light.

Some of the information I’ve uncovered is alarming. For awhile I’ve been experiencing seemingly contradictory symptoms in my toes—both numb and at the same time tingly with sharp pain. A friend said it sounds like neuropathy but I’m not so sure. When I checked these symptoms online, I discovered I might have been stung by a cone snail.

This is not as far fetched as it may seem. From the photos, I recognized these critters as being among the shells displayed artistically in a china bowl in our living room. (Some of you would say they are simply piled in the bowl, but you would be lacking creative vision.) Now I imagine the snails crawling around the house at night, looking for toes to sting. Laugh if you must, but I’m taking this very seriously. Severe cases of cone snail stings can lead to blurred vision (hm-m-m…) and respiratory paralysis. Note to self: ask eye doctor what he knows about cone snails.

Closer to home is the possibility that I have atrial fibrillation, which my mother had and which more than doubles one’s likelihood of developing dementia after surviving a stroke. My mind is already wandering dangerously close to the outskirts of sanity. I don’t need to add to my risk of dementia. The commercial for MULTAQ prompted me to learn the symptoms of AFib and where better to look than online?

Lack of energy—check, especially after a big meal (or a few glasses of wine…) Heart palpitations—check, but only when I lie awake at night thinking about everything I didn’t get done. Dizziness—check, especially when I stand up suddenly (after a few glasses of wine.) This is definitely something I’ll ask my GP to investigate on my next visit.

While I was on WebMD, I researched one of my husband’s symptoms. He’s developed a quirk in his sleep—his legs twitch. Repeatedly. And at regular intervals. (I timed them at 12 to 15 seconds.) I assumed he has restless leg syndrome. Turns out it’s Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. PLMD happens only at night, and the usual intervals are 20 to 40 seconds. Causes can include iron deficiency and anemia. He’s been tired lately and needs more sleep. It’s no wonder. You’d be exhausted, too, if you exercised all night.

His recent blood tests showed that his hemoglobin is low, and his doctors have run additional tests. They’ve scheduled him at a sleep clinic because they suspect he suffers from apnea, along with anemia. (This diagnosis brought to you by the letter “A.")  If they just spent a little more time on WebMD (or in bed with him,) they’d look into PLMD. Fortunately, the sleep clinic can also detect PLMD. I’m looking forward to his trip so we can sort this out, and so I’ll get at least one good night’s sleep.

Time for one last pass through the symptoms search on WebMD. Let’s see what we find for being exhausted (especially after clearing out a wall full of books and other stuff,) craving ice cream sandwiches (and a glass of Cab,) frequent trips to the loo (after lots of Cab,) and mood swings (when I’ve run out of ice cream and wine.) Well, what do you know! It looks like I may be pregnant. I guess that means I should cut out the wine, but who are we kidding. I’m as likely to do that as I am to be pregnant.

So much for self-diagnosis. Seriously, we all need to be our own best health advocates. The more we understand our bodies and our baseline conditions, the better we can help our physicians keep us healthy. So, get on the Internet, research your symptoms and make your own list of ailments to annoy your doctor about. And don’t forget cone snails.

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