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Sometimes you just need to see your doctor
Both before and after fitness class, many participants will ask me medical questions. They tell me about their symptoms, they discuss the side effects to drugs they are taking, they relate what their doctor told them about their problems. Sometimes, they just need a good listener; and I always try to be that. But sometimes, they want my opinion — my medical opinion. Alas, I am not a medical doctor. I know a little bit about sore muscles, and the treatment of them. But I cannot diagnose medical problems and conditions. (See Fitness Instructors and What they Know).
When you have medical concerns, it’s important to see your doctor. Many people tell me they don’t like their doctor; others tell me they don’t feel that he or she listens. Some say that they just don’t like going, and they don’t want to hear bad news. Others don't wish to wait in line at a drop-in clinic. None of these is a good reason for not going. Ultimately, we are the “master of [our] fate” and seeking medical advice when it’s needed is part of taking care of ourselves.
Francis Bacon, a 16th century philosopher, statesman and author during the era known as “The Scientific Revolution,” wrote: “Knowledge is power.” To alleviate fears of going to the doctor, or of hearing what the doctor might say, there are a number of things you can do: before, during, and after your visit. Even making the decision to go can be difficult, so here are some tips.
When and why should you go to the doctor?
This may sound like a very silly question, but it is amazing how many people aren’t sure when they should go or why. They’re worried about the symptoms and they don’t want to hear what the doctor says. Believe it or not, some just say that they don’t want to “bother” their doctor because it “isn’t important.” And finally, some just dislike doctors (in general) or their own doctor, and refuse to go.
Everyone should see their doctor, dentist, and eye doctor for preventive care at least once a year. But the questions — when and why should you go to your doctor — applies to those in between times when you feel that something “is not right.”
If you are having difficulty deciding whether or not to go, ask yourself these questions. If you can say ‘yes’ to even one of them, you should probably see your doctor:
- Have your symptoms lasted three days or more?
- Have you tried home remedies (heat, ice, Ibuprofin) which have not worked?
- Are you worried that these symptoms might be related to the medication you are taking?
- Are the symptoms affecting your daily routine? (i.e. you can’t sleep, you feel you should avoid fitness class, you don’t feel like going out)
- Do you have a chronic problem which has developed a new symptom? (For example, you have asthma, and you have not found your usual treatments to be as effective as in the past.)
There are some symptoms which you should recognize immediately as “not right.” Not going to the doctor when these symptoms occur may make things much worse later:
- vomiting or an inability to keep fluids down
- painful swallowing
- earache, sore throat, coughing — that last more than 7 days during a cold
- any symptoms of dehydration
- severe and persistent stomach problems (heartburn, nausea, pain)
- persistent fatigue
- unexplained weight loss
- numbness in arms, legs or face
- heart palpitations or chest pain
- swelling in ankles or legs
- a fever of 38º or higher
- vision problems
- blood in urine or stool
Things to do before you go see your doctor.
As your problems begin, there is a somewhat logical progression you can take before you make the appointment:
Keep a journal of your symptoms. That will help you to decide if a visit is necessary.
Talk to others about your symptoms (sure, that could be me) and let them help you decide what to do.
Use the internet and the library and learn what you can: Although you may not be able to diagnose the problem, you may be able to narrow down the possibilities.
Make an appointment and continue to monitor your symptoms.
Once an appointment is made, do the following before you go:
Make a list of all your symptoms and all medications you are taking.
Write down the specific questions you want to ask the doctor.
If you are going to a new doctor, make sure he or she knows about your medical record: it should be sent by your previous doctor, or you can write up your own.
If you feel you have something very long and detailed to discuss, consider writing a letter to your doctor, explaining everything that you are concerned about. Deliver it several days before your appointment.
Make sure you have your list and ask questions!
- Be sure you have your list(s) with you. Start with the problem you consider to be the most serious. Explain all symptoms and indicate how long it has been occurring.
- Emphasize any noticeable changes in your health.
- Ask questions and take notes if you need to.
- Many doctors now have a computer with them in the examination room. If they are discussing something with you that you don’t understand, ask if there is a website on the computer that might assist you to understand.
- Be sure you know exactly what the doctor is prescribing, whether it be medicine, diet, exercise, or lab tests.
- If the doctor is recommending a specialist, be sure to ask what his/her specialty is and why you are being sent to them. Make sure you get an appointment through your doctor’s office for the specialist.
- Request routine exams when appropriate: blood pressure, weight, pulse.
After your visit to the doctor
- Review your notes when you get home. Write down anything else that you recall the doctor saying but you didn’t write down while you were there.
- Look up information about whatever you discussed: on the internet, at the library.
- Follow-up with lab tests or whatever else the doctor prescribed.
- If you are taking lab tests, schedule an appointment to go back and find out the results.
- If you are taking medications, ask the pharmacist about side effects. Don’t purchase a large amount. Just take enough to see how you deal with the medication. If side effects occur, return to your doctor immediately to see if another medication can be prescribed.
In closing, it’s worth saying that if you do not feel you have a good relationship with your doctor, you should consider changing to a new one ... or trying to develop a better relationship with your present one.
If you’re looking for a new one, ask for references from friends or family and see if you can be accepted as a new patient. If you are trying to improve the relationship you have with your present doctor, make an appointment to talk to him or her specifically about your concerns.
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.
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