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Type 1 & 2 Diabetes: Get More Out of Your Doctor Visit By Better Communicating Your Symptoms

When you go to the doctor, it is important that you act as a good self-advocate by properly explaining your symptoms. However, since many people do not have medical training, it can sometimes be difficult to convey properly, exactly what we are feeling. This can sometimes result in you leaving your doctor’s office feeling frustrated and misunderstood. Fortunately, by learning how to communicate better, your symptoms with your doctor, you’ll be more likely to get an accurate diagnosis and proper relief for your problem.

Preparing for Your Appointment

If you have an upcoming medical appointment, it can be extremely beneficial to take some time to think about your symptoms. According to Dr. John Ely, a retired family physician from the University of Iowa, there are eight main characteristics of a symptom. By answering these questions ahead of time, you’ll be better able to explain exactly what is going on to your doctor, and the result should be a more accurate diagnosis.

  1. Site. Where is the pain or numbness in your body?
  2. Onset. How long has the symptom occurred? Did it come on suddenly or gradually? If it is something more intermittent like chest pain spells, how often do they occur and how long do they last?
  3. Your first experience. What were you doing the first time that you noticed the symptom? Were you sitting on the couch? Were you in an argument with a loved one? If you are experiencing dizziness, this is especially important.
  4. Associations. Do you have any additional symptoms or signs associated with your concern? For example, are you experiencing shortness of breath or light-headedness?
  5. Quality of the symptom. What does the pain feel like? Is it an intense stabbing sensation or more of a dull ache? How bad is the pain on a scale of 1 to 10?
  6. Radiation. Does the pain radiate to other parts of your body, or does it seem to be contained in a particular area?
  7. Exacerbating factors. What aggravates the symptom or makes it worse?
  8. Relieving factors. What can you do to help your symptoms?

Other Tips for Talking to Your Doctor

Correctly explaining your symptoms will go a long way in helping your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis, but there are other tips that you should follow to make sure that you are explaining yourself well during your appointment:

  • Write things down. Go to your medical appointment with the most pertinent facts written down so that you do not forget them. Also, jot down a couple of quick questions that you might have about your condition.
  • Describe how your symptoms are affecting your life. Your doctor will likely try to quantify your symptoms to make them objective but expand on this by explaining exactly how your symptoms are affecting your life. For example, share that your headache was so severe that you had to leave work early for the first time in years or that you were unable to get out of bed.
  • Use simple terms. Don’t feel that you need to use medical terminology when speaking to your doctor. Explain what you are experiencing in simple terms as if you were talking to a friend or relative.

Following these steps will certainly help you better describe your symptoms to your doctor. The information that you provide your physician will be crucial for receiving a diagnosis, establishing a proper treatment plan, and getting on the road to recovery.


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