How One Functional Medicine Doctor Solved Her Own Health Mystery

Photo: Painted Wood

Even though I completed residency 13 years ago, I still feel as if I haven't fully recovered. This feeling probably has something to do with years of sleep deprivation and then going on to have four kids and starting a business. I am also anemic and have celiac disease, which went undiagnosed for a very long time. In other words: I don't flinch very much when I feel fatigued, because honestly, I'm almost always a little bit on the tired side.

That's why when I got sick in September—with body pain, headaches, and bone-crushing fatigue—I didn't read into it too much. The kids were just back in school, which means a lot of extra germs floating around the house, and it's not unusual for me to come down with something. Luckily, the joint pain and headaches went away after a week. The fatigue, however, lingered for a long time, and I started to suspect this wasn't just a normal cold or flu.

I didn't ignore my body when it was trying to tell me something.

Two weeks later, I got sick again with the exact same symptoms, along with a terrible sore throat. It hurt to talk and even breathe. This is when the illness really got my attention since I had no fever but had the same sickness three weeks apart.

I've always loved puzzles, and as a functional medicine doctor I spend a lot of time solving my patients' health puzzles. So as cruddy as I felt, the wheels in my brain started turning, and I was determined to find the source. Flu? No, not with the recurrence three weeks later. Two separate colds? Possibly, but the symptoms were so similar, and I hadn't fully recovered, so it didn't feel like two separate events. Mycoplasma? Unlikely, since I had no chest symptoms. Lyme or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)? Could I have recurrent mononucleosis? I've had it twice, so what's to stop me from having it a third time?

I got lab work done to make sure I wasn't missing anything.

I did two panels of blood work to test for chronic infections and Lyme and co-infections. The time spent waiting for the results were some of the longest days of my life! I began treating myself naturally since I wasn't willing to take antibiotics unless it was absolutely necessary—which is something I also advise my patients. I started taking herbal remedies for Lyme disease and added an herbal antiviral immune supporting supplement—with gentiana, lemon balm, and St. John's wort—as well.

Then, I continued to wait. I was beyond frustrated when the EBV antibodies came back and it looked like I was, indeed, having a recurrence. Plus, the Lyme testing came back "indeterminate," which meant we needed to do more testing. This took about three more weeks and was not covered by insurance. I am not the most graceful patient, and my mind was jumping from illness to illness as I waited for the results.

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I was open to natural remedies, and I practiced patience.

Thanks to the herbal supplements, during those three weeks I started to slowly improve. And when I say slowly, I mean it. My brain fog, fatigue, and joint pain persisted for weeks. The Lyme testing finally came back, and it was surprising but, thankfully, negative. So, I stopped the herbals for Lyme and continued the herbals for immune antiviral support.

I'm now seven weeks into this process, and my brain is functioning enough to be able to write about the experience. In the last week, I've actually been able to start walking normally, without hobbling due to hip pain! The fatigue? Well, it's still there, but it's easing down to a level I can deal with. I'm left with the questions: Why now? What caused EBV to reactivate at this particular time? I don't have any good answers. I'll probably take the herbals for three to six more months, depending on the pace of my recovery.

If you're faced with your own health challenge, here's what to do:

The take-home message? There are certain steps we can all take when we're faced with strange symptoms or an unexplainable illness. As a functional medicine expert, I knew just what to do. But a lot of people feel lost at sea when they're presented with a health mystery.

1. Don't ignore your weird symptoms.

They always have a cause! Sometimes you just need to think outside the box.

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2. Immediately remove all inflammatory foods.

Removing allergens from one's diet never hurts when one is in the midst of weird symptoms. That would mean eliminating gluten, dairy, and sugar and not replacing them with gluten- and dairy-free substitutes.

3. Keep a diary of your symptoms.

When we're not feeling optimal, it can be hard to zoom out and see the full picture of our health. That's why it's a great idea to keep a diary of your symptoms, including what you eat, what your stress levels are like each day, and what activities you participate in. You'll likely find valuable information that can hint at the root cause of the issue and be a huge piece of the recovery puzzle.

4. Find a provider who will take a holistic approach.

Especially if you're not satisfied with a traditional approach, find a functional or integrative medicine doctor who will be open to natural remedies. They can be extremely effective!

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5. Always get tests to verify your suspicions.

It's not the time to play guessing games when you're feeling sick. Make sure you get the testing that will give you concrete information so you can come up with a smart, informed treatment plan.

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