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Are Patients' Self-Reports More Accurate than Doctors?

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Could it be true that patient reports about their overall health are more accurate than their doctors'? A recent study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology indicates that patients' self-reports could help doctors more than standard tests like blood tests and blood pressure measurements. The study was conducted by Christopher Fagundes, a Rice assistant professor of psychology, and postdoctoral researcher Kyle Murdock. With statistical evidence, they were surprised to discover that patients' answers to the question "How do you feel about your health in general?" was a better indicator of morbidity than any test to describe one's physiological condition. Fagundes and Murdock looked at existing data and found that there are solid links between self-rated health and rising levels of herpesvirus activity, which is a marker of poor cellular immunity. This doesn't necessarily mean immediate sickness, but it is a good indication of how the immune-system is working. Unfortunately, herpesvirus tests are very time intensive. Because the virus poses no immediate threat, physicians are unlikely to perform these tests without cause. So where do our bad-health instincts originate? If one's immunity is poor, their immune-system is fighting harder to prevent infection. This causes inflammation throughout the body, which leads to disease. Our bodies feel this inflammation causing us to feel bad in some way. Throughout the study, those who reported feeling good had low virus and inflammation levels, while those who felt bad had the opposite. This study provides some insight, but further research is needed to determine the exact channel alerting patients to potential disease. In the meantime, doctors are advised to pay closer attention to patients' self-reports. For years doctors have ignored patients, with lines like "It's all in your head." According to Fagundes, "it is in your head, but there's a reason."
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