by Stewart B. Segal, MD
Yes, you can make yourself sick worrying. Today, I saw a husband and wife team who quite honestly had worried themselves sick. I had found an abnormality on the husbands laboratory work 10 days ago. The abnormality was significant enough to require further investigation but not likely to represent a serious problem. I had referred my patient to a specialist and the specialist had ordered some tests. While the specialist and I were doing our jobs and being cautious, neither of us were truly worried.
Despite the fact that I was not truly worried, the patient and his wife were truly worried! They were literally worried sick. They had not slept since I saw him 10 days prior. They were eating poorly. Today, both had fatigue and cold symptoms. Both were anxious to get test results and find out what was wrong. They had put their winter vacation on hold. In this case as well as many others, “worry” becomes a disease with the potential to do great harm. “Worry” is often a worse disease than the disease you are worried about. Worry disables you. “Worry” often lasts longer than the disease you were worried about.
My patients hire me to be caring and cautious. It is my job to turn over every little rock and make sure that, God willing, I find anything that can hurt them and prevent them from getting sick, or effectively treat their illness. It is my job to worry about my patients so they don’t have to. When the disease that is hurting my patient is “worry”, it is my job to alleviate that worry. I cannot treat “worry” unless my patient shares their worry with me. Today I started treating this couples “worry”. I will treat their “worry” with the same level of concern as I would someone with heart disease. I do not want them to “worry” themselves to death.
This article is written for the rest of my patients. “Worry” is a disease that should be aggressively treated. If you are worried, share that worry with Maki and me. We can help. Many times we can help you see that your worry is unfounded. If your worry is founded in fact, we can help you cope. Often, we can enlist your family and friends to help you deal with your worries. Doctors Wright and Lapporte are psychologists who become part of your treatment team to help you overcome and deal with your worries. The one thing you should not do is worry yourself sick!
As we enter the new year, I wish you all happiness and health.