When my symptoms first started around the age of 8, I had no idea just how many doctors I would see over the years…
- Traditional primary care providers.
- Any kind of -ologist.
- Advanced specialists.
The Let Down
Regardless of how many of these traditional docs I saw, though, none of them could tell me what was wrong with me. They ran blood, urine, and fecal panels, did tests of all varieties, carried out physical exams, and asked me a zillion questions (or no questions at all). Each time with each new doctor was pretty much the same for me.
Me: Here are all of my symptoms. I feel like crap most of the time.
Doctor: Let’s run some tests.
Me: So, what’s wrong with me?
Doctor: All of your tests look great and you seem healthy! You’re only ___ years old after all!
I can’t even count how many doctors offices I’ve left in tears, feeling like all of my symptoms were in my head.
I even figured out one of my diagnoses by doing my own research and watching medical shows on TV I wish I were kidding. I really don’t recommend this method of diagnosis, but it just highlights how some people fall through the cracks of the traditional medical system.
How Autoimmune Diseases are Diagnosed
Some chronic conditions and autoimmune diseases are easy for traditional doctors to identify and diagnose. You show up at the doctor with symptoms x, y, and z, your doctor has a hunch, runs a test, and BOOM, you have a diagnosis, which is great. But many stories are like mine, which include many years, many doctors, and a ton of money down the drain, only to be disappointed and frustrated by the outcome. Not to mention still in pain and experiencing symptoms with no answers.
On top of the difficulty of diagnostics and the rarity of some autoimmune diseases there are people – also like me – whose symptoms are technically sub-clinical. This means that my blood work typically shows up with normal results because I haven’t yet crossed over that magical threshold that traditional clinical tests look for. Dr. Amy Myers calls this the “Diagnosis Threshold” as you can see in her graphic below.
How Functional Medicine is Different
This is where functional medicine comes in. Practitioners who have been trained with a functional medicine approach tend to see the whole picture of health and wellness throughout all body systems, integrating them rather than separating them into specialties. They also tend to seek out the root cause of a person’s issue rather than treating just the symptoms. This is not to say that traditional medical professionals don’t do these things; some of them do! Over the years, I have found a handful of traditional docs who are very holistic and foundational, but usually their methods of testing still fall short for someone whose symptoms are below the diagnostic threshold.
Functional medicine practitioners and tests seek to get a holistic picture of how body systems and organs are functioning overall instead of seeking a specific test value or specific diagnosis based on general symptoms. By keeping their perspective broad, they tend to catch things that traditional doctors and focused specialists don’t. Again, this is not true across the board, but it can make a big difference for people who have been to many traditional doctors with no fruitful outcomes.
How Functional Medicine Practitioners are Trained
Functional medicine doctors can have a wide variety of backgrounds. There is not one specific place that practitioners go to become They can be traditional MDs who go on to do extra certification and coursework specifically in functional medicine. They could be naturopaths, osteopaths, internists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, nurse practitioners, and much more. They might have special training, but they might not. These practitioners tend to use similar functional testing methods, but their approach to addressing and healing health issues may vary depending on their background, their certifications, and their personal approach.
How to Find a Functional Medicine Provider
If you have been struggling to find answers, have had doctors tell you that your test results all look normal when you feel like crap, or just want a holistic perspective, collaborating with a functional medicine practitioner may be right for you!
You can find a provider near you through the following resources or sometimes just by doing a simple Google search!
The Institute for Functional Medicine
Kalish Institute of Functional Medicine