Four Tips to a Faster GERD Diagnosis for Your Child
Nearly 100,000 children and young adults have Inflammatory Bowel Disease in the United States. Unfortunately diagnosing children with IBD can still be extremely difficult. Parents often find this very frustrating because they (obviously) want to rid their child of pain as quickly as possible. There are many reasons that contribute to delayed diagnosis in children but there are also some things you can do as a parent to make sure your child’s symptoms are addressed in a more timely manner.
1. Journal your child’s symptoms clearly and bring the journal to your child’s pediatrician or GI visit.
Sometimes GI symptoms, and the way they are described to a physician, can be very vague. That can make it hard for a doctor to determine exactly what the problem is as well as the severity. When ever possible, journal the frequency of symptoms and severity (on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being worst pain ever). A food journal should also be included to help to rule out food allergies, intolerances or celiac as a cause for the abdominal pain. Remember almost every child has had stomach pain or GI upset so your child’s physician needs to know, in a quantitative way, that this is not normal childhood stomach aches. Remember to pay careful attention to note blood in the stool, mucous in the stool, fevers or other symptoms as well.
2. Write a list of questions before each visit.
Physicians, on average, spend more time answering questions when the patient or parent brings a list and makes it clear that they need the questions they have noted answered. Parents can also have a hard time remembering what they meant to ask if they do not bring a list. It is very easy to get distracted when the doctor steers the conversations to a different topic or if you have a child being rambunctious in the office. If you have to, bring another adult with you to supervise your child or remove them if you need one on one time getting your questions answered.
3. Take notes.
Taking notes during the visit can help clarify anything you may not remember when thinking back to the visit. You can simply answer the questions you wrote in suggestion #2 or take some basic notes. Either way you will have the answers handy and permanently. It also helps streamline future visits because it avoids duplicating the same questions over and over. You can also write down what tests are being done and when to expect the results. Knowing what testing your child has already had will help prevent duplicating them at a future visit or with a different specialist.
4. Develop a “plan” with your child’s physician.
A “plan” is very important. For example, your doctor may run lab work on your child. The way offices handle informing patients is different from office to office. Some will contact you with the results, good or bad. Some only contact you if the results are abnormal. Make sure you know how long it takes for them to get the test results back and call to check on the results in the appropriate time frame. An office I used to use had a policy of only calling patients if the results were abnormal. I had some labs done and never heard back. I called them to double check that the labs were normal and found that, although the labs had been back for weeks, they were actually abnormal and no one had told me or the physician.
Plans can also include detailed instructions as to how long to give a medication to work, what tests will be run if the previous ones don’t determine the problem, how to contact a physician if you have an emergency after hours and when to come back to re-evaluate the symptoms.
These are just a few tips that can help you to navigate the diagnosis process. Keeping on top of things and a little persistence can make the difference between a long drawn out process or a quick diagnosis. Remember that IBD causes damage to the GI tract and can cause issues with a child’s growth when it is not controlled so a quick diagnosis is really important.