Throughout the history of civilization, there have always been things that we did not understand— things that we believed to be real but couldn’t see. Faith, love— even germs all spring to mind though we may not have always had a scientific name for them.
While the human race has come a long way from our earliest beginnings, the simple truth is that science is ever-evolving and new things are discovered every day. Just as today we may laugh at some of the ancestral medical practices of the middle ages, our descendants may one day do the same to us.
The same could also be said for the discovery and further understanding and treatment of ailments previously attributed to an imbalance of the four humors or even demons.
The New Science On Invisible Disabilities
Most recently there has been a renewed focus on debilitating illnesses and diseases that may not always visible to the naked eye or even some advanced diagnostic testing techniques available to doctors and hospitals throughout the world. These ailments have been given the term invisible disabilities.
According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, in simple terms, an invisible disability is considered to be a physical, mental, or neurological condition that limits one’s mobility or senses to the point where the severely impact the individual’s everyday life and activities. Unlike other disabilities, invisible disabilities are imperceptible to onlookers and therefore can sometimes lead to misunderstandings, false perceptions, and judgment.
For example, according to the American Physical Therapy Association, “Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has come a long way since the 1980s when it was widely dismissed as ‘yuppie flu’ and was suspected by many health care providers of being a psychological rather than a physiological condition.” To date, there is no definitive test for CFS and it is instead considered to be diagnosed but exclusion.
Another well-known illness for which there is no definitive test to confirm its existence is fibromyalgia. The reigning Queen of Pop (disagree, if you dare) Lady Gaga, has recently (and very publicly) brought the topic of fibromyalgia front and center in the media. Gaga, born Stefani Germanotta, has struggled with the illness for years, and though invisible— she has chosen to bravely document her struggle with its debilitating effects in the recent Netflix documentary Five Foot Two and has even been forced to cancel a number of shows on her most recent Joanne tour due to the incredible debilitating pain associated with the illness.
Mental illnesses such as individuals who struggle with depression, anxiety, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and more are also considered to have an invisible disability (if the symptoms they experience are severe enough); however, in these cases there are often more definitive ways of testing and diagnosing cases.
In addition to those previously listed, below are a number of other known invisible disabilities. Please note that though extensive, this is in no way to be considered a complete list of possible invisible disabilities.
- Asperger Syndrome
- Brain injuries
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Chronic pain
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorders
- Coeliac Disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Ehlers Danlos Syndrome
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
- Food allergies
- Fructose malabsorption
- Hereditary Fructose Intolerance
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Interstitial cystitis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Lactose Intolerance
- Lyme Disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
- Myasthenia Gravis
- Personality disorders
- Primary immunodeficiency
- Psychiatric disabilities
- Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
- Repetitive stress injuries
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Schnitzler’s Syndrome
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Spinal Disorders
- Temporomandibular joint disorder
- Transverse Myelitis
- Ulcerative Colitis
Testing The Odds
According to Disabled World, it is estimated that approximately ten percent of Americans have been diagnosed with a medical condition that could be labeled as an invisible disability. “Ninety-six percent of people with chronic medical conditions live with a condition that is invisible. These people do not use a cane or any assistive device and act as if they didn’t have a medical condition. About twenty-five percent of them have some type of activity limitation, ranging from mild to severe; the remaining seventy-five percent are not disabled by their chronic conditions.”