Early in my career in the 1960s, I developed an interest in patients who had physical symptoms but no definable medical disease. I began to see a number of these patients referred from my colleagues. I asked myself, “If these patients do not have a medical disease, then what do they have?”
I defined “symptoms of unknown origin” as occurring when a patient had two or more symptoms for over a month, and whose symptoms remained unexplained after a thorough medical workup. I intended to study and follow these patients, hoping to uncover the underlying cause for their symptoms whatever they might be. I was surprised to discover that many such patients carried diagnoses of non-existent diseases – that is false diagnoses. I soon found that the presence of a false diagnosis created a barrier to uncovering the real cause for the symptoms.