How to talk to your doctor about digestive issues
Navigating through the medical diagnostic process can be aggravatingly slow or thankfully fast.
Being prepared for your consultation can assist greatly in achieving a more productive visit and beneficial outcome.
Here’s 6 tips on how patients have gotten the speediest answers to their most vexing digestive questions:
1. Arrive on time.
While the traffic gods will sometimes interfere with even the best-laid plans, it’s essential that you plan to arrive at your appointment on time – and 15 minutes early if you are new and will undoubtedly need to fill out paperwork. If you show up 15 minutes late for a 15-minute appointment, there’s a good chance you’ll be rushed through without ample time to discuss your issues thoroughly.
2. Bring copies of relevant test results and procedure reports.
I can’t emphasize enough how common it is for patients to forget the names of previous diagnostic tests they’ve gone through. When you show up to a doctor’s appointment without knowing this information, there’s a big chance your doctor will waste time (and money!) retesting for issues that have already been ruled out or miss an obvious diagnosis based on your health history.
If you’ve had an gastroscopy or a colonoscopy, what were the findings? Bring your reports along where possible. If you’ve had an operation on your digestive tract, which procedure was it? If you’ve had a breath test, what were they checking for and what were the results? If blood was drawn recently, what was being checked and what, if anything, was found? Have you had any specialized tests that involved imaging of your digestive tract?
To get to a diagnosis faster, your best bet is to bring copies of any and all relevant tests you’ve undergone related to the condition at hand. It may take some effort to gather these results from previous doctors or even hospitals, though practices that offer online patient portals may make this process easier.
If you can’t obtain the actual test results, then compiling a summarized “medical resume” may be the next best thing. Simply type up a list of all the test names or procedures you’ve undergone; who conducted them (as well as where and when); and what they found. Hand the sheet to your doctor. His or her office can then chase down copies of any relevant results after you leave.
3. Describe symptoms with specific language rather than euphemisms.
It can be very embarrassing to describe digestive symptoms, and you may feel unsure as to what the appropriate terms for problems like diarrhea, poop, farts, burps, vomit, vomit burps, “gurgly” stomach noises and all the other goings-on in your digestive tract. You may be tempted to use more polite, generic phrases to describe your symptoms. Don’t be. Your doctor has literally heard it all, and all of this potty talk is as routine to him or her as talking about the weather is to everyone else.
If you say that you “get sick to your stomach” to refer to having diarrhea, for example, your doctor may actually think you’re referring to vomiting. If you say “constipated” to refer to straining to have a daily bowel movement, your doctor may think you mean you’re unable to move your bowels more than once or twice per week. If you say you get a “stomachache” after eating, it could refer to sharp pain, cramps or dull pain – and it doesn’t tell your doctor where the pain is.
The devil is in the details. Tell your doctor exactly what you mean – with all the gory details. What’s happening and where, what it looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like and how often it happens.
4. Mention relevant timing issues.
Sometimes, telling your doctor when your symptoms all started can be the clue to your diagnosis. Did everything go south after you recovered from a bout of food poisoning on vacation? Did things change for you in the bathroom after having your gallbladder removed? Did your digestive discomfort peak after going on a new diet like a 30-day cleanse, Weight Watchers or a paleo-style diet? Did your symptoms coincide with starting or stopping a particular medication or supplement? Have you had this problem since you were a child? Did your problem get better or worse during pregnancy? Placing your complaints in context will help your doctor do better diagnostic detective work.
5. Tell your doctor what you’ve already tried.
We often learn as much from what doesn’t help you feel better as we do from what does help. If you’ve already tried a medication, supplement, diet change or lifestyle modification to address your problem and it hasn’t worked, be sure to include this in your conversation. It will help your doctor narrow down the list of possibilities to more likely culprits.
6. Keep an open mind.
Now that we all have access to Dr. Google, we’ll often arrive to a doctor’s appointment with a preconceived notion about what we think is wrong. As a result, we may try to steer the conversation toward this self-diagnosis and inadvertently leave out important information that could shed light on the truth.
It’s perfectly appropriate to share your own hypotheses about your health with your doctor – “Do you think it could be X?” – and this is especially so if you have a family history that lends more weight to your hunch. But be sure to share all of the details, and be open to the possibility that your real doctor may see things in a different light than Dr. Google.
Tamara Duker Freuman , MS, RD, CDN