This season I will suffer from…electrosensitivity

According to gynaecologist Cees Renckens who is stepping down as chairman of the association against quackery, less people are suffering from ‘fashionable illnesses’. But he remains vigilant. ‘So-called illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, are difficult to eradicate and new ones are cropping up all the time’, he says in an interview in Trouw.

Chronic Lyme
Chronic whiplash and RSI are on the wane and so are most of the trendy aches and pains that figured in Cees Renckens’ 2004 thesis. It listed pelvis instability, post natal depression, fibromyalgia and premenstrual syndrome. ‘We now see a lot of people with chronic Lyme disease’, he says. ‘It’s a label used by the alternative medicine circuit to put on people who are inexplicably tired. ‘You have chronic Lyme’, some quack tells them. Recognition at last, thinks the patient who is then put on a weekly dose of antibiotics which won’t do any good and is expensive.’
Another newcomer, according to Renckens, is ‘electrosensitivity syndrome’. Victims claim that radiation from wireless electronic equipment and mobiles causes a range of health problems, from poor concentration to sweats and fatigue. But tests have shown that the complaints persist even when the electronic equipment is turned off.
‘It’s tragic really’, says Renckens. ‘People do genuinely suffer and they can get very angry if you take their diagnosis away. Some critics have even received death threats.’
Official quack
Fashionable illnesses are not difficult to recognise. They appear suddenly and are limited to certain countries or areas. Sufferers are mostly young women who have symptoms that are difficult to quantify, like fatigue or listlessness. Doctors usually can’t find anything physically wrong with them. Once it becomes clear to doctors what they are dealing with, the influx of patients usually comes to a halt. ‘People don’t like to be laughed at’, Renckens says.
Renckens remembers one memorable case which nearly finished off the association. The court ruled that calling orthomanual therapist Maria Sickesz a quack was inadmissible. In 2009 the high court overturned the verdict. Since then Sickesz, who claimed she could cure autism, schizophrenia and a whole raft of other illnesses by manipulating people’s vertebrae, can be officially called a quack.

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