Savvy Patients Speak Up: Questions for Your Doctor
1. What medications can I stop taking?
More than one in five Americans take three or more prescribed drugs. It’s worth discussing whether they’re all still necessary.
2. What can I do to be healthier?
Lifestyle factors like diet and sleep affect your health. Your doctor has sound advice.
3. Should I get a second opinion?
Physicians don’t mind being asked for a referral, and will point you toward qualified specialists.
4. Could you explain that again?
Don’t leave the office confused. Ask, and doctors will do a better job of explaining.
5. What Internet sources can I trust for medical information?
The Web is clogged with misinformation. Find out which sites doctors recommend.
6. Is it stomach flu, or my gall bladder?
A gap of years can occur between gall bladder attacks. How to know if you’re experiencing stomach flu or something more serious?
Symptoms that are the similar for both stomach flu and gall bladder attacks include abdominal pain or cramping, vomiting, nausea, fever, shaking with chills and abdominal tenderness.
Symptoms specific to the gall bladder include pain that worsens after a meal – particularly fatty or greasy foods, pain extending beneath the right shoulder blade and to the back, heartburn, indigestion, excessive gas, abdominal fullness, chest pain, jaundice and clay-colored stools.
When in doubt, call your doctor’s office.
7. Will I get over my cold quicker if I go to the doctor?
People sometimes think getting treated early will prevent a cold from getting worse. This is a myth. If you’re having mild, minor symptoms for less than a week, it’s probably a virus and we cannot treat you with anything but supportive - most likely over-the-counter - medications. Antibiotics simply will not work.
The exception? If you have health problems such as heart or lung disease, or a compromised immune system, you may need to be seen early.
Otherwise, wait before making an appointment. If you’re not making progress after seven to 10 days, or a second wave of fever occurs, or the cold settles in your chest or sinuses, then it could be a bacterial infection that needs to be treated.
8. I’m more tired than usual. When should I see a doctor?
We all feel tired now and then, but ongoing fatigue can be medically concerning.
Ask yourself if you feel sleepy most of the day despite a good night’s rest, if you need short naps throughout the day, or if you doze off while driving or doing tasks that require focus.
Also ask yourself if you’re having other symptoms, such as appetite loss, low-grade fever, snoring or difficulty falling or staying asleep.
If you answer yes to the above, and if the fatigue lasts two to four weeks, see your doctor to rule out medical conditions ranging from anemia to sleep apnea to thyroid and cardiac issues. You’ll rest easier.
9. It’s just heartburn. Why should I worry?
Popping antacids or over-the-counter drugs like Prilosec might provide relief; however, several potentially serious conditions can mimic heartburn. These include heart disease, gallstones and stomach ulcers. Chronic heartburn can lead to more serious conditions, such as esophagitis and esophageal cancer.
Lifestyle modifications – avoiding nicotine, excessive alcohol and eating close to bedtime – along with dietary changes can help. But it’s wise to seek medical advice if there’s no improvement.
If heartburn doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medications, or worsens, or if you have difficulty swallowing, nausea or vomiting, unexplained weight loss, chronic cough, a choking sensation, chronic hoarseness or wheezing, see your doctor immediately.
Bottom line: Know when to put away the antacids and seek medical advice.