Anxious About Your Health? Talk to Other Patients to Lower Stress
Perhaps it is a sign of growing older or maybe some would say wiser, that I am starting to discuss my health concerns openly with others. I never used to do this some years ago, mainly because I didn’t have many health concerns to discuss. But now that I do have some health concerns I am ready to share. In addition, discussing one’s health problems used to be more of a hush-hush topic and still is for some people. Yet with the advent of health blogs, disease specific forums, and health sites such as Health Central, people are discussing their health more than ever before. And I personally think this is a good thing. Here is one reason why. Talking to other patients can help to decrease anxiety about your health concerns. In this post I am going to talk about a recent experience I had to illustrate my point.
This week I had some anxiety provoking physical symptoms. I felt chest pressure, extreme weakness, clammy, trembly, and very unwell as though I would pass out. When I was waiting to see a doctor I worried about what these symptoms could mean. Heart problem? Diabetes? Some sort of weird virus? After I told one of the nurses how I was feeling she took me back to a room and immediately began placing sticky patches on my body in order to do an EKG. I didn’t know what she was doing or why so I became frightened. “Do you have any pain running down your right arm?” she asked. I shook my head “no” and she told me this was a good sign. The EKG took less than ten minutes and afterward she told me she could not tell me the results but that they were “reassuring.” I didn’t have much time to feel relieved because soon after she was pricking my finger for my blood glucose level. It was 115 after fasting but again she didn’t seem worried.
When you seek medical care you can almost see the wheels turning in the minds of the medical professionals. They try to rule out the worst things first as a process of elimination. Apparently they were thinking the same things that I was in the waiting room. Heart problem? No…okay let’s check for diabetes. Nope. So what’s next? I waited in the hospital room for an hour and a half to contemplate the “what else could this be?” question. Asthma? Some sort of weird reaction to my medications or supplements? Then it occurred to me that I had felt this chest pressure before. I thought about the foods I had eaten during the past week. Pot roast, spicy beans, hot wings, and pizza. “Ahhhh my gallbladder.” Could it be? Indeed it could. By the time the doctor did see me she asked a ton of questions and then pressed down once on the gallbladder spot which is located on the right side of the ribcage. I yelped in pain. I saw by the look on her face that she had found the potential source of my malaise.
An ultrasound was scheduled and I also heard them say, “HIDA Scan.” The ultrasound is to check for gallstones and the scan is to see how well or poorly the gallbladder is functioning. The doctor sent me home with very little information. I had no time to ask many questions as she was backed up already. Basically I was told to write a log of which foods caused me the most distress. I left feeling confused and anxious. And this was the point when I turned to friends for support.
One of the wonderful things about being a writer at Health Central is that I have access to the wisdom of other patients. Make no mistake, your doctor is the person you go to in order to be diagnosed and treated for what ails you. But other patients can give you something unique that nobody else can give. Only other patients can give you a first hand perspective of what it is like to have your medical condition. I first asked Ann Bartlett, an expert patient, on our diabetes site for her input on blood glucose levels and what the numbers mean. I never had a skin prick test before and I was confused about both the test and what the results indicate. Ann helped to clear up my confusion and also gave me some suggestions about what things to ask my doctor.
I also wrote to Pam Flores from our Osteoporosis site, Deborah Gray and Judy from our depression site, Lene Andersen from our RA site, Karen Lee Richards from our Chronic Pain site, and Eileen Bailey from our ADHD and Anxiety site to ask if they could share any information or personal experience they had with gallbladder issues. In return I received a ton of helpful suggestions and support that I would not have gotten otherwise.
After leaving the doctor I was anxious that my symptoms seemed too extreme for a gallbladder problem. But in talking with my friends and fellow patients who had previously experienced gallbladder pain, I learned that my symptoms of feeling like I was having a heart attack are not so unusual for this condition. I also didn’t know about the correlation of an increased blood sugar level with gallbladder disease. Before talking to my friends I had no idea that gallbladder disease is so common and especially for women in their forties and beyond. Some of my friends had their gallbladder taken out through surgery and could tell me how they felt afterward and about the healing process. These were examples of the details I needed in order for me to make sense of my situation.
In addition to my doctor’s expertise, other patients could fill in the gaps with their personal experience stories and knowledge. As a result of this sharing among friends, I feel far less anxious than I had been previously. Anxiety almost always makes a medical situation worse. It is unfortunately the norm nowadays for doctors to be pressed for time during your visits. There may not be sufficient time for your doctor to answer all of your lingering questions. Also, your doctor may not be able to tell you how your condition symptoms, tests, and treatment might feel if they have never had your condition themselves. This is where other patients can be extremely helpful in providing not only these details but also emotional support.
If you are dealing with the symptoms of a medical condition and you are feeling anxious about it, please do check with your doctor first in order to get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment. But what else may help is to reach out to other patients who are going through or have gone through the same thing. Health Central can help in this way. There is great wisdom here among our expert patients, community leaders, and members. Everyone has a unique perspective and personal knowledge that they can bring to the table.
We are all experts of our own experience.
If you have never shared on a health site before I would encourage you to do so here. What you say could not only give you the opportunity to receive information and support but it could also help someone else who is going through a similar experience.
A big shout out of thanks to my writer friends and all the wonderful members of our Health Central sites. Where else can I go on at length about my gallbladder and have people actually listen and respond?
Thank you so much.
For more information about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for both medical and mental disorders please visit the front page of Health Central to see the list of our many health communities. We are here to serve you!