The Best Way to Investigate a Health Worry

Amy Hendel Health Guide
  • Do you suspect that you may have an undiagnosed illness?  Did you go to the doctor for a screening, tests, and a professional evaluation, only to find that his diagnosis is "no disease," but you feel he missed something?  Have you developed new symptoms that do not seem to respond to traditional treatment?


    It's called a medical hunch, medical worry or gut feeling, and in the case of our health, sometimes a persistent hunch may be, in fact, an ongoing internal alarm.  Most of us who develop symptoms are lucky to have modern science offer a diagnosis and treatment plan.  Occasionally, though, modern science fails us, and traditional tests, and even your doctor's superior evaluations, may not be able to identify a disease.  If the disease is serious, then every missed day of actual diagnosis can mean a less optimal outcome, even if a diagnosis is ultimately made.  We've all heard stories of people who go to see their doctor for an innocent complaint or for a yearly screening, and coincidentally, serious disease is found and lucky for them, treated in a timely fashion.  Others patients keep going in with persistent complaints, only to have their doctors tell them, "Nothing seems to be wrong."  So what do you do if you are convinced that symptoms you have are serious or indications of a disease that simply defies the traditional diagnosis radar?

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    Always get a second opinion


    If your suspicions involve a particular area of medicine where there are specialists, then request a referral to a specific specialist in that field of medicine.  University hospitals often have leaders or doctors with specific medical expertise, or the specialists have access to world-wide data and other experts.  Come armed with a diary of your symptoms and any tests you have already had so you maximize your time with the specialist and avoid any redundant tests, unless the specialist questions test results already done.  There have been cases of "switched results," so if the doctor wants to repeat a test, it may be a valid approach.  On the other hand, don't doctor shop, meaning don't book a ridiculous number of appointments, even with noted specialists because you are convinced that 12 opinions is necessary.  That is overkill.


    Trust your gut feeling


    If you are a sensible individual who believes that these are new and worrisome symptoms, persist in pursuing an explanation.  Modern medicine is imperfect, and there is a human element of error.  Every doctor has a story of a patient who seemed to defy diagnosis, who was given a psychiatric referral, only to find true disease later on, through some other diagnostic effort.  The patients who do best are those who have strong relationships with their doctor and who have good communication channels.  It is reasonable to say, "What do we do now because I am convinced something is going on and we are missing it."  A good rule of thumb is to re-evaluate every 6-8 weeks, if your gut feeling persists, and if there is no deterioration that requires more timely opinions and treatment.  If your doctor does not have a serious ego, then asking for that second or even third opinion will usually be deemed reasonable.

Published On: June 29, 2009