Have you ever found yourself feeling disappointed finding out your labs are completely normal?
I see this a lot in primary care. A patient will come to me feeling fatigued, foggy or just not themselves & they are convinced a deficiency, allergy/sensitivity or hormone problem is to blame.
We order a bevy of tests and when I call them a few days later to let them know everything looks great, instead of being relieved, they sound skeptical, disappointed or even ashamed at the “good” news.
Sound familiar? Why do so many of us have these feelings?
Here’s my theory and what I want patients to know.
Why do we feel disappointed by normal results?
- We all want validation. We want an external source to confirm that our symptoms are real and not just “in our head.”
- We want an “answer.” We want a “concrete” explanation for how we feel before we commit to following treatment recommendations that involve changing our lifestyle or taking medications.
- We think it’s a dead end. We worry that normal labs mean our doctor can’t or won’t help us and it’s up to us to deal with our symptoms alone.
Please remember this:
Your symptoms are real by definition, simply because you are experiencing them.
Find a doctor who gives you this validation and reminds you to give it to yourself.
Keep in mind that over 80% of diagnoses in medicine are thought to be made on clinical history alone. We don’t always need an abnormal test to justify treatment, especially when the treatment is low-risk and low-cost (i.e. healthful diet changes, specific stretches/exercises, sleep hygiene, etc.).
Find a doctor you trust to actually listen and make the right diagnosis.
Lastly, normal tests should never be a dead end when you are feeling unwell. But endless testing and bouncing from specialist to specialist are also not usually the answer.
Find a doctor who is willing to dig deeper and think outside the box, but will also tell you when further testing is unlikely to be helpful.
Take Home Points:
Examine your assumptions about what normal results actually mean. Medically, they do not mean that your symptoms are “in your head” or that they are untreatable.
Find a doctor whom you trust, who listens, validates and always treats you rather than a lab result.