The Importance Of Listening In Treating Invisible Illness And Long-Haul COVID-19

By Dorothy Wall MA in AMA Journal of Ethics.


Primary and specialty care clinicians strive to base diagnoses and treatment on specific, measurable abnormalities. Yet those with invisible, controversial illnesses such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) often have symptoms not explained by standard laboratory values. For instance, one of the cardinal features of ME/CFS is postexertional malaise, the exacerbation of symptoms—fatigue, pain, cognitive dysfunction—following exertion, which contradicts studies showing the health benefits of exercise. In these cases, overly physicalist approaches to caring for patients are not likely to be helpful, and a clinician’s willingness to listen to a patient’s experience of illness becomes essential.

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