Going to the doctor is usually a routine experience. You share your symptoms, your doctor offers a knowing nod, and you’re out the door with an answer and a prescription. But what happens when your issue isn’t so simple? Some of us suffer from enigmatic illnesses – like unexplained weight gain, chronic fatigue, and other mysterious maladies – that can be hard to diagnose and treat by even the most experienced medical professional.
While our desire might be to throw up our hands in defeat, we can’t give up. We deserve our best health; at times, we must fight for it. But how do we start? How can you be your best advocate? And how do you find the answers you desperately need when nothing seems to be working?
The first step is to list all of your symptoms and start tracking them. Do you notice that you feel exhausted at three in the afternoon? Do you have sinus issues only when you are at work? Are you wide awake at 2 AM every night? In order for a doctor to understand your needs, they require the whole picture. Plus, it’s often in the little things that you find the most astounding connections.
Next, do your research. Note: I didn’t say, diagnose via web browser! But it’s worth doing some online seeking to understand the terms surrounding your issues, to explore your symptoms and what they could possibly mean, and to get familiar with the current research. You are up close and personal with your issues, and they are foremost on your mind. But your doctor, especially if you are going to a general practitioner, may not be familiar with all the new techniques and treatments surrounding your health woes.
Find the right doctor. If you already have a general practitioner with whom you share a good relationship, that is the place to start. But if your symptoms don’t match common maladies, you may need to see a specialist. Finding a doctor might not be fun, but it's easier than you might think. Your general practitioner may offer a referral, or you can search on your own. Sites like Vitals and Healthgrades offer patient reviews and ratings. You may also check with your local health food store or health newspaper for suggestions if you want a practitioner with a holistic orientation.
Treat your first appointment like a job interview. You might have found a specialist to work with, but is this the right person? Just like any relationship, the medical relationship depends on mutual respect and trust, and it often comes down to like-minded personalities. So during your first visit, come prepared. Bring the tracker of all your symptoms, copies of any tests you may have had in the last few years, and a list of your questions. Present all of this at your appointment and see what transpires. Afterwards, review whether or not this is someone you feel you can work with. Depending on the severity or complexity of your issues, you might be with this doctor for several years. If you don’t feel confident that this is the right doctor, don’t hesitate to visit another one. You may have to travel some distance to find the right person, but when you do, it will be well worth it.
Mystery illnesses frustrate the sufferer, but there are answers out there for you. Sadly, when we don’t feel well, doing more work may the last thing we want to do, but this is one situation where it may pay off for years to come. Tracking your symptoms, researching your issues, and establishing a solid relationship with a medical professional will get you that much closer to finding a solution and feeling better.
What have you done in the past to find the right doctor? What tips would you offer someone in a similar situation?