Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

November 29, 2021
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Grab your doctor by the lapels

Five ways to get the kind of attention your body deserves

"Physicians are extremely busy, so they tend to connect certain symptoms with certain problems," says Cam Patterson, M.D., director of the cardiology division at the University of North Carolina. "You can break through those barriers by being concise and specific." Wave these red flags to raise your physician's suspicions.

Use the word "new."
"I have a constant new pain . . . "
"A new pain, particularly one that's frequent, can be a sign that something is seriously wrong," says Dr. Patterson. "Stay focused on that issue. You don't want to confuse matters by talking about more than one problem at a time."

Pinpoint the location.
" . . . in the tip of my right pinky finger . . . "
The more precise you can be, the easier it will be for your doctor to make a diagnosis. "Giving the exact location is also important because it may indicate that you need to see a specialist," says Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D., orthopedic surgeon-in-chief for the University of Virginia Health System.

Use strong adjectives.
" . . . a stabbing pain, pretty severe . . . "
"Severe," "blunt," "numbing," "stabbing" -- these words will grab your doctor by the collar, says Dr. Patterson.

Rate your symptoms.
". . . maybe a 6 out of 10 . . ."
"Giving your pain a severity score provides your doctor with a concrete idea of how it feels," says Dr. Laurencin. "Doing this also helps during follow-up visits, because it'll make it easier for your doctor to judge whether different medications or therapies are working."

Tell him what you can't do.
" . . . and I'm having trouble picking my nose now."
If you used to be able to type for hours and now you can't because your vision is blurry, say so. Your doctor will immediately understand how debilitating your problem is -- and you'll reinforce the idea that something has changed recently. "If you've had to alter your lifestyle," says Dr. Patterson, "knowing that will add to your physician's urgency."

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