Describe Your Symptoms

My recent letter I wrote to help my doctor visits goes smoother has prompted me to look for information on this.

  1. Bring an up-to-date cumulative patient profile with you to the interview. You can create one by summarizing your medical history on a page. Include dates of, and reasons for hospitalizations and surgery. You may not end up needing to refer to it, but if questions about your medical history come up, having one will maximize the time you can spend discussing your current medical issue(s). Bring your current medication bottles, which list the name & dose information, including herbal supplements if applicable.
  2. Describe your basic reasons for the visit in one or two sentences. Most doctors will start with the interview with something like, “What brings you here today?”. Preparing an answer to this question in advance will facilitate the visit. Some common symptoms include: Pain, weakness, Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, fever, confusion, breathing problems, or headache.

  3. Recall the onset and timing of your symptoms. Include starts, stops and frequency. (“I get bad pain right in between my menstrual periods that lasts about three days.”) Be prepared with dates and times, if possible. (“The first time I remember feeling this way was on the 15th. It tends to get worse in the late evenings, but occasionally I feel it in the early mornings, too.”)

  4. Explain what makes the pain better or worse. Make note of any movement that sharpens the pain (“My finger feels fine unless I bend it towards my palm, and then I feel a sharp pain.”) or lessens it (“It seems to go away when I lie down on my side.”). If any foods, drinks, positions, activities, or medications worsen or alleviate the symptoms, make it clear. (“The fever got better with Tylenol but then came back in two hours.”)

  5. Use adjectives to describe your symptoms more fully. Not all pain is the same. It can be sharp, dull, right on the surface of the body, deep inside, etc. Example: “When I get dizzy, it isn’t just that I feel like I’m going to faint; it feels more like the world is constantly spinning to the left!”. Without getting overly poetic, try to point out what makes this sensation different than other types of pain you have felt before.

  6. Point to the location of your symptoms. Include details if the pain moves about. (“The pain was right around my bellybutton but now, it seems to have moved over here near my right hip.”)

  7. Rate the severity of your symptoms. Use a scale of one to ten, with one being almost nothing and ten being the worst possible symptom you can imagine. Be honest, and don’t minimize or exaggerate. “Ten out of ten” pain (in the eyes of medical professionals) would render a person almost incapable of speech or any other act such as eating or reading. (“I was sitting eating lunch and then I suddenly got the worst headache of my life out of nowhere. It was so bad that it nearly knocked me unconscious. Definitely a nine or ten.”)

  8. Describe the setting and your condition when the symptoms occurred. Where were you? What were you doing? How different was the setting and activity than what you normally do? What had you been doing right before the symptoms arose, and earlier that day?

  9. List other things that happen at the same time as your symptoms. (“During the three weeks I’ve been having these fainting spells, my wife also said that I’ve been looking very pale and I’ve also had these dark colored bowel movements and I’ve lost ten pounds even though I’m eating exactly the same.”)

  10. Expect the doctor to examine you and potentially order some tests or a trial of treatment.

Also remember to be honest, describe all your symptoms, and bring a friend or family member with you it you feel it would help.

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