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10 Things to Tell Your Doctor

By Jamie McManus M.D.
Women's Health Expert
Updated: September 21, 2008
Tell your doctor...

1)...your WHOLE health history and update it regularly. If you're a new patient, take the time to complete the new patient questionnaire - or ask to review and update your form at every annual checkup. It is imperative to your future care that your physician knows your complete past medical history, including surgeries, medications and supplements you take and ANY reactions you have had to medications. Be honest about your alcohol intake, whether you smoke (and how much, if you do smoke) as well as any street drugs you may use currently or in the past. Your physician is not there to judge you, but to be sure that you receive the best care and advice possible---so be honest!

2) want more time. Advise that you would like to ask questions before you leave their office, so that you can best follow "the plan" your doctor is recommending. If they can't commit to answering all your questions, you may need to find a new physician. If you worry about forgetting the questions; write them down. Interview your doctor just as you would a potential applicant for a new job. They play an important role as the co-guardian of your health!!!

3)...the when, whats and where of your visit. If you are seeing your doctor about a new problem, be sure to say WHEN the symptoms began, WHAT you think may be going on, WHAT you think might be associated with the condition, and WHERE it hurts. I have found that if you let patients talk (many doctors are so busy and simply ask a quick series of questions that distract the person from what they had planned to say – some people get nervous in the doctor's office), they often help me make the diagnosis—and no further testing is required!

Heart disease, the #1 killer in women is a good example of why it's important to talk about your symptoms. It is often under diagnosed because it manifests itself differently in women. Female symptoms tend to be shortness of breath, or arm pain and not the typical chest main that accompanies a male heart attack. You may think its nothing; but let the doctor know what you're feeling.

4)...changes in your family health. Communicate any changes in your family history. Perhaps you've seen a particular physician for a number of years, but recently your mother was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes or your father just had a stroke. Your physician needs to add this to his/her database of information to be sure that the correct preventive care is being discussed.

5)...about your mood/emotional health. If you feel very sad, have feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of harming yourself, tell your physician. Depression is very real and very treatable. If your mood has changed significantly since your last visit, ask for help.

6)...if you have ever been diagnosed with bulimia or anorexia. Bulimia increases the risk of digestive problems including pancreatitis and also esophageal problems. Anorexia can lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis; both conditions involve other risk factors that your doctor can look out for --- that may very well save your life!

7)...if you're on a weight loss program. Weight loss promotes other positive changes, including weight loss, reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and decreased back or joint pains. These changes may enable a lower dose of some medications, or even their elimination. Be sure to describe the weight loss plan or diet to your physician--even if he/she doesn't ask. There are some potentially unsafe ways to lose weight, including fasting, plans that encourage you to eat less than 1200 calories or eliminate complete food groups. Excessively rapid weight loss may unmask underlying gall bladder disease and very low calorie intake may increase the risk of low blood levels of key electrolytes such as potassium.

8)...if you have Type 2 diabetes. Ask your doctor for a monitored, healthy weight management program. Weight loss and dietary improvement are the most important lifestyle changes for people with diabetes.

9)...about any life changes or new stresses. Life's significant changes (new job, new home, marriage, death) cause stress, which is one of the most important factors leading to negative changes in one's health. For example, there is a newly recognized condition called "broken heart syndrome" in which an actual heart attack occurs after someone loses a loved one. This seems to occur more often in women, who are already more prone to under diagnosis of heart disease by many physicians.

10)...what supplements you take. Bring the bottles to your next appointment, or list the products and the exact amounts of nutrients or herbs found in each one. (You can get this information from the supplement label.) The more information the better! Although most physicians do not have extensive understanding of supplements, they can consult the PDR of Nutritional Supplements or the company's website for further information. Also, many pharmacists can access databases to advise of any potential concern about supplement-drug interactions – if they know what products you're taking!

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