Tips for Communicating with Your Doctor

The patient said he had noticed some feelings of numbness in his finger tips for several months. He reported that the symptoms were mild and “no big deal.” He was able to do his usual daily activities with no interference.

Another patient said she had been feeling numbness in her finger tips of both hands for several months. There was no pain. Then her eyes welled up with tears and she said she couldn’t play the piano any longer. While she was not a professional musician, her playing was an extremely important part of her life.

Patients often only communicate symptoms such as pain, wheezing, swelling, itching. Physicians often remain unaware of how the symptoms impact the patient’s life. Similar symptoms may have very different importance for different patients.

It is critical that you communicate not only your symptoms but how important that symptom is to you and what it means to you. How much does the symptom interfere with your life, work, recreation, relationships, and plans?

“I am afraid to drive because of the light-headedness. I need to be able to drive so that I can continue to work and take the children to school.”

“Because of the diarrhea, I’m afraid to leave the house. I wouldn’t even think of going on vacation, and this is a real problem in my family.”

“I get so short of breath that I can’t even take my usual morning walk with my friend.”

What are your feelings about the symptoms? The symptom may be tolerable, but your concern that it might signal a more serious, life-threatening disease may greatly magnify the distress. Everyone’s experience of symptoms is molded by emotions.

“The back pain isn’t really severe, but Iâm afraid it may be a kidney infection.”

“My father had abdominal pain and then they found out he had liver cancer. That worries me. Is it hereditary?”

Your doctor isn’t a mind-reader. Even if he or she doesn’t ask (and it would be great if every doctor did), express your concerns, especially how the symptom limits your daily life. Be as specific as you can. Help your physician see the world through your eyes. The meaning of the symptom for you will help guide your doctor’s advice and actions.





Excerpted with permission from the Quarterly Newsletter, Mind/Body Health Newsletter. For subscription information call 1-(800)-222-4745 or visit the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge website.

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David S. Sobel MD Written by David S. Sobel MD

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