Just a bad case of the vapors?
December 18, 2010 7:07 AM   Subscribe

My body seems to overreact horribly to minor problems. Am I crazy or is this a documented condition? All the doctors I've seen have shrugged and asked if I was under a lot of stress.

Over the past couple of years, simple issues--a dinged funny bone, a cavity, a case of heartburn, to name a few--will lead to a pounding heart, faintness, muscle spasms, widespread tingling and clumsiness, and unbelievable pain along the affected nerve pathways (a bumped elbow will set my entire ulnar nerve on fire, a cavity will make my entire trigeminal nerve go berzerk). It will last for days and gradually subside, leaving my muscles feeling sore and achy, like I've spent a week chopping wood. NSAIDs and steroids don't do much. The most effective treatment seems to be Robaxin, which seems to dull the discomfort and relax my muscles a bit.

I have been to a neurologist, a primary care provider, an orthopedist, even the ER. Various MRIs, Xrays, ultrasounds confirm that nothing is wrong with my brain, neck, arm, heart, or gut. Every blood test they've done has come back fine. My thyroid is normal (middle of the range). I'm low on Vitamin B12 and D. Physically, I eat right (lots of veggies, lean protein, whole grains, olive oil) and am a healthy weight. I don't exercise as much as I'd like, but I try to get in 45 minutes 3 times a week. I have had lifelong insomnia (sleep disorders run in my family and my insomnia began in infancy) that I manage pretty well with good sleep hygiene and Ambien. I stopped taking hormonal birth control two years ago in favor of a copper IUD.

The only possible clue is that I've also had mild left-side parasthesias (tingling) of varying intensity for the past two years that are also unexplained.

None of my doctors have said anything explicitly about it being psychological except to ask if I'm under a lot of stress (with enough concern that I went home and did some googling and came up with somatoform disorder). So...maybe?

I could accept that it's psychological except that it seems so...not. Everything starts with a real problem--it just seems to spiral out of control. I'm not having panic attacks--I don't have any sweating or flushing or shortness of breath, or think I'm going to die. I do have some stress in my life, but it's normal responsible-adult stress--it doesn't feel overwhelming, and I cope with it appropriately. I don't find myself worrying constantly or ruminating endlessly over a problem. We have dealt with job losses and close family deaths this past year, but the timing of these events doesn't seem to correlate meaningfully (to me, anyway) with my episodes. I don't enjoy the medical attention or the fact that it interferes with my work or that it worries my husband.

So, mefites, WTF? What could this be? Is this really just a B12 deficiency? A psychiatric problem? A pain disorder? A nerve disorder? Has anyone ever heard of something like this?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked into fibromyalgia?

Also, unless you are vegan, b12 and D deficiency can be a sign of gluten intolerance. Be sure to get screened for celiac. Some celiacs have symptoms like yours. But make sure you are getting d3 supplements because those are the most effective.

I had symptoms like yours. It seems like my body reacted completely inappropriately to pain. My orthodontist kind of "fired" me because he said he'd never seen anyone react like me.

But I'll share with you a conversation that changed my life:
Me: I don't understand. I eat right...but I feel absolutely awful all the time.
Doctor: Maybe it's not your body that's wrong, but the food recommendations?

So now I do follow a whole grain-free (phytic acid in them for example can chelate minerals out of your body if you have GI problems) high-fat diet. And it works amazingly well. A few weeks ago I went back on a normal diet because of stress and the pain came back.
posted by melissam at 7:30 AM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Melissam hit it spot on. My Mom has fibromyalgia and everyday foods and drugs put her out of whack. She is trying to cut down on processed foods right now.

One of my co-workers went on a gluten free cleanse, that is, she avoided products containing gluten for two weeks. She did feel better. Gluten is very tricky. It's surprisingly how many products contain wheat or yeast, so you might want to read up on how to identify them. Personally, I cut back on diary unintentionally - it was going to waste because we weren't eating it fast enough - and I felt so good. I don't know why this was, just that it was. Keeping a food journal might help pinpoint food related flare-ups.

Good luck! I know how frustrating it is to have a problem that doctors can't identify or don't think exist.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:13 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Look for a doctor who specializes in functional medicine. You should be supplementing the B12 (and probably B6 and folic acid as well) and D3.

Seconding the "you might be intolerant of wheat or gluten or yeast or all of those things" and suggest doing an elimination diet to see if your symptoms improve in the absence of particular foods.

In general, people who have unusually high levels of pain in response to given stimuli are often people who have high levels of inflammation, and dietary changes can help reduce that. There are also medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter) and supplements that can help reduce inflammation--you might want to take some NSAIDs prophylactically, if your stomach and liver can tolerate it. But again, a doctor will help you pinpoint this stuff.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:26 AM on December 18, 2010

You might also want to explore the possibility of an autonomic disorder.
posted by galadriel at 8:48 AM on December 18, 2010

I might look into seeing a pain management specialist.
posted by biscotti at 9:03 AM on December 18, 2010

Copper. IUD. Of the devil. You probably didn't want that to be considered as a possibility, did you? But you mentioned it, so I will too.

Some people get on just fine with copper IUDs. Some people don't. I didn't like mine, or it didn't like me, or something. Everything just hurt more. I also had weird parasthesias (sp??) that may or may not have been related, that led to an MRI which didn't find anything, and ended up with a diagnosis of magnesium deficiency, and a not-terribly-polite company doctor who ended up asking me if I 'often suffered with, hmm, this kind of hypochondria?'

In my case it all went away shortly after I lost my somewhat stressful job, which was about the time I finished the magnesium pills (and started eating a better diet), and a couple of months after getting rid of the IUD. Good luck.
posted by Lebannen at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2010

The copper IUD made me anemic and miserable too. I also get neuralgic migraines which can lead to the weakness and tingling on one side and mine was low grade but pretty constant to the point I had noticeable difference in muscle development and strength on one side of my body. I take a very low dose of beta blockers for that and it's cleared it up 99.99%. I can cut bread again without being afraid I'm going to lose a finger on my left hand because I don't know where they are!
posted by fshgrl at 12:03 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The clumsiness, tingling, B12 deficiency and one-sided paresthesia sounds similar to my mom's first symptoms of multiple sclerosis. You might want to get tested?
posted by slicesoftree at 3:55 PM on December 18, 2010

Anxiety can do weird things to the body. By saying your pain may have a psychological cause, your doctor isn't accusing you of making it up or telling you it's "all in your head". The pain is real, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the underlying cause is physical. You know the phrase, when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras? Anxiety is a horse. Get that possibility properly checked out before you go looking for zebras.
posted by embrangled at 7:48 PM on December 18, 2010

Just wanted to add, B12 deficiency can cause both nerve damage (which would explain your tingling sensations) and psychological problems. You need to get it properly treated, and if there's no obvious dietary cause, you should look into the possibility of pernicious anaemia.
posted by embrangled at 7:59 PM on December 18, 2010

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