The only thing worse than being in pain is being told that “it’s all in your head.” Sadly, people who suffer from chronic pain are often surrounded by family, friends and physicians who don’t believe they’re in pain.

Since pain is invisible, it’s quite common for these people to appear “normal” even when in pain. It’s a major reason why even their most supportive and well-meaning friends may not understand how they feel.

All Pain is Real

Chronic pain affects a third of all Americans and 1.5 billion people globally. This is more people than diabetes, cardiac disease and cancer combined. It’s very unlikely that all of these people are imagining or exaggerating their pain.

Chronic pain may be the result of an underlying medical condition such as fibromyalgia, IBS, endometriosis, traumatic injury, arthritis, nerve damage and multiple sclerosis. However, the pain may also be psychogenic, meaning that it’s cause is psychological.

What many of us may not realize is that psychogenic pain is just as real as any other pain. As long as it interferes with daily activities, it doesn’t really matter if there is a physical cause.

Get the Right Diagnosis for Your Pain

People with chronic pain are a lot likelier to get the “all in your head” diagnosis than other patients. It doesn’t help that chronic pain increases the risk of anxiety and depression making it even more difficult to diagnose the real cause.

The first step to getting the right diagnosis is keeping a symptoms journal. People who suffer from chronic pain often have a myriad of other seemingly unrelated symptoms such as fatigue, heat intolerance and dizziness. Keeping a record of how often the symptoms occur, how long they last and how they interfere with daily activities is critical to getting the right diagnosis.

Sometimes physicians over-rely on intuition and gut-feeling based on past experiences rather than analytical thinking. This can lead to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

If the initial course of treatment doesn’t produce results, press your physician to take another look at your updated symptoms journal. Be gentle but persistent about your symptoms until your doctor realizes that they are real and not just in your head.

If all else fails, find another physician. Having a knowledgeable physician who respects your knowledge of your body is extremely important because the last thing you need when in pain is a doctor who doesn’t believe you.

Finding the right physician is all about trial and error. Focus on physicians who have reputations for treating chronic pain and using computerized decision-support tools to identify the different diagnosis options. Perhaps all you need is a new set of diagnostic eyes and ears.

Just because the people around you don’t “get it” doesn’t mean you should suffer in silence living with the pain. There are physicians out there who understand chronic pain and will not dismiss you.

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