Doctors start off a conversation with a patient by asking what the problem is and how they are feeling. So, should it be that when a patient complains that he or she is not feeling well, doctors should pay attention?

The findings of a new study suggest that how patients say they feel may be a better predictor of health than an objective measure such as a blood test. The study, published in Psych neuroendocrinology, analyzed data from a sample of 1,500 people who took part in the Texas City Stress and Health Study, which tracked the stress and health levels of people living near Houston.
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The survey included self-assessments from a 36-item questionnaire as well as blood samples, which were analyzed for markers of inflammation and the activity of latent herpes viruses. (The viruses were the benign type and not the type associated with sexually transmitted diseases or cold sores.) Inflammation and viral activity are generally sound markers of how healthy an immune system is. But they don’t typically cause any obvious symptoms or show up in traditional blood tests.

The study found that when people said they felt poorly, they had high levels of virus and inflammation in their systems. And at the other end of the spectrum, people who reported feeling well had a low virus and inflammation level.

Christopher P. Fagundes, an assistant psychology professor at Rice University and a co-author of the study said, “I think the take-home message is that self-reported health matters. Physicians should pay close to attention to their patients. There are likely biological mechanisms underlying why they feel their health is poor.”

What are your feelings about this? Do you think that patients are not heard enough? Share your comments below.

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