What is an invisible illness?
When someone tells you they’re not well, it’s not uncommon to look for symptoms, even if it’s subconsciously.
Do they have a cough? Are they sneezing? Are they limping?
However, some health issues aren’t obvious. These are known as invisible illnesses and they can be difficult to understand for those who are fortunate to live without them.
Types of invisible illnesses
Invisible illnesses can be difficult to live with and understand.
Unless someone reveals that they have an underlying condition without visible symptoms, most people they have contact with will probably be unaware.
While it’s obviously up to each person to decide what information to share, living with an invisible illness in private may lead to other people making incorrect judgments because you ‘don’t look sick’.
The term ‘invisible illness’ covers hundreds of conditions or health challenges that are not obvious to spot, and can include conditions such as:
- heart conditions
- thyroid issues
- prostate conditions
- chronic kidney disease
- digestive disorders (like coeliac disease or irritable bowel syndrome)
- chronic fatigue
- ongoing pain
- mental illness.
Many invisible illnesses are also classified as chronic (long-term or recurring) health conditions. They’re extremely common, with half of the population having at least one prominent condition. Unfortunately, the likelihood of developing a chronic health condition increases with age, with as many as 60% of Australians aged over 60 years living with two or more conditions.
It’s estimated that as many as 96% of people with a chronic medical condition live with an invisible illness.
What are the signs you may have one?
Invisible health conditions can affect people in different ways with no one experience being the same. This is due to the variety of symptoms that may accompany the wide range of invisible conditions. Symptoms may include ongoing pain, fatigue, mood disorders, feeling generally unwell, rashes and other skin reactions, stomach upset, diarrhea, or bloating. These symptoms can impact the quality of life of the person experiencing them.
However, in some cases, an individual may not even be aware that they have an underlying health problem, because it may be too early for symptoms. This is particularly the case for heart conditions, thyroid issues, and pre-diabetes.
How can you diagnose an invisible illness?
Pinpointing an unnoticeable illness can be difficult, particularly if you’re experiencing vague symptoms or symptoms that may be associated with a number of other health conditions. However, your body may give you clues that something’s not right, so it’s important to pay attention to how you feel.
For example, if you’re feeling constantly tired and you know you’ve been eating well and getting plenty of sleep, then it may be a sign that something is not quite right.
If you’re in doubt, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor.
What else can you do?
In some cases, it may be easy to identify a potential health condition through a simple blood test. Sometimes, early detection is important as it can help you better manage an emerging condition, or put steps in place so you can prevent it or treat it early.
For example, 90% of Australians have at least one risk factor for heart disease. The more risk factors you have, the greater chance of developing it. The good news is that for most risk factors you can do something about them.
A second example is diabetes, about 1 in 6 Australians has pre-diabetes and don’t even know it. Pre-diabetes is a condition where your blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. While there are no signs or symptoms of diabetes, having pre-diabetes puts you at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that like many other invisible health conditions, diabetes and heart disease can often be successfully prevented through changes to lifestyle, exercise and diet. The key is knowing that your blood sugar levels or heart disease risk markers are on the high side in the first place.
A quick and easy way to determine if you’re at risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes is to check your blood levels for important health risk markers.
MonitorYou provides a convenient, affordable blood monitoring service that allows you to check your own blood levels from home. The Healthy Heart Service measures your risk of heart disease and diabetes, with the prick of your finger, removing the need to visit a pathology centre.
If you find that your blood sugar levels are on the high side, you can follow up with your doctor. After all, waiting until you display heart disease or diabetes symptoms makes it harder for you to manage your condition.
You can subscribe to the MonitorYou Healthy Heart Service here.
Many Australians live with illnesses that aren’t obvious. While some people may choose to talk about them, many won’t, which means that it’s important to be mindful, and respectful of someone who tells you that they’re not well, even if they look like they are.