How to Describe Medical Symptoms to Your Doctor

How to Describe Medical Symptoms to Your Doctor

Humans experience pain and discomfort differently and articulating the nuances around what you are feeling is not an easy task. This comes as no surprise as until we are at the doctor’s office or faced with the ever-daunting google search bar, we survive by replacing articulation with groans, moans, whines, and ‘ouches.’

You’ve moved past pain and discomfort mode, into search mode, and now, finally, you are face to face with a professional. You know your symptoms but you can’t convey your situation well enough. The doctor doesn’t understand you and you don’t get the treatment you need. You’re back where you’re started – only worse, because you finally made an attempt to get help, and even that didn’t improve anything.

Does this sound familiar It doesn’t have to be this way. Five tips to help you better communicate your medical symptoms to your doctor:

1. Quickly Explain Why You Need the Urgent Care

Quickly Explain Why You Need the Urgent Care

Before you go into story mode or details, quickly clarify to your doctor why you’re here. A couple of sentences will be enough to help your doctor listen more proactively, instead of guessing what you’re trying to get to.

2. Use Your Own Terms

Use Your Own Terms

Don’t worry about using proper medical terms . Doctors often gain extra insight into your situation by hearing how you experience it in your own language and phrasing.

If a metaphor comes up, share it. For example, if you feel your cough is like a knife that’s cutting your throat, tell the doctor. If you feel like your head is submerged in a giant tub of Aloe Vera, let them know. If no colorful metaphor comes to mind, don’t worry about it. Just explain what’s going on the best way you can.

3. Be Specific About Frequency, Severity and History

Be Specific About Frequency, Severity and History

Pain in your foot might sound specific, but pain in different parts of your foot can mean different things. When you walk into an urgent care clinic, doctors need you to be as specific as you can.

They need to know when the pain started, what happened around that time, how consistent it’s been since, whether it’s associated in your opinion with something else (for example, does it hurt when you jump, but not when you walk?), and how bad it is.

Try using a scale of 1-10 to describe severity, when 1 is “I hardly feel it” and 10 is “the worst pain I’ve ever felt”. If you can, log your pain levels throughout the day or week, and write down what was different about the times the feeling got significantly better or worse.

Doctors also need to know relevant medical history, what meds you’re taking, or if neighbors or co-workers are suffering from similar symptoms.

4. Don’t Be Embarrassed

Don’t Be Embarrassed

Most doctors have heard it all, so there’s a good chance that what you’re embarrassed to share doesn’t even come close to the worst thing they ever heard.

Even if it is, you’re protected by doctor-patient confidentiality. This is your safe place. Share what’s going on, so you can get the most accurate treatment, and get healthy as soon as possible.

5. Write it Down

Write it Down

We want all patients to enter their appointments feeling empowered. Empowered to ask questions, empowered to find the best care. Whenever possible, before you walk into an urgent care clinic, read through this post and write bullet points for yourself. Think about the specificity and severity of the situation, relevant medical history and that thing you’re embarrassed to share. If you have pictures or anecdotes to add, do so!

Having everything written down will help you feel empowered, confident, prepared, and make the most of those moments with the doctor. Lastly, if saying the words out loud feels like too much, let your doctor read what you wrote.

Either way, providing your doctor with accurate information will shorten your journey back to health. Have recurring or relentless symptoms that you’ve put on the back burner? Take note and make an appointment to get it settled once and for all.

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