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What to Expect During Your First Visit to the Doctor

By Dr. Paul Ballas

When I first meet patients who are suspected of having schizophrenia, many times they are unsure of what to expect from the interview or have questions that they forget to ask during the session. In this blog I’ve decided to give a brief overview of what to expect at a first visit when schizophrenia is suspected.

First and foremost, it’s important to know that not everyone who hallucinates or has disturbing thoughts has schizophrenia. In previous blog entries, I described some causes of hallucinations, like migraine headaches, thyroid problems, and certain kinds of infections. In addition to medical illness, certain medications have been known to cause symptoms similar to those seen in schizophrenia. This is part of the reason why it is important to tell your doctor your full medical history and what medications you are currently taking. A withdrawal reaction can sometimes occur when a person stops taking certain medications. This reaction can cause disturbed thinking and hallucinations, so be sure to tell your physician about any medications you recently stopped taking as well as the ones you regularly use.

Doctors often ask about any personal or family history of psychiatric disorders. This is important to know for several reasons. Many people with schizophrenia also have relatives with this or another mental health disorder. Other psychiatric disorders, like depression or bipolar disorder, can have symptoms that are similar to those seen in schizophrenia, so it’s helpful for your doctor to know if you have every been diagnosed with any other disorder.

Your physician will probably ask you a wide range of questions. Sometimes patients receive standardized tests that examine different mental processes such as memory, concentration, attention, and organization. People sometimes feel that these questions are silly or insignificant, but these tests can give valuable information on the specific parts of a person’s brain that are functioning abnormally. The results of these tests also serve as a baseline that can be use to track your progress and treatment regimens.

If you suspect you have the schizophrenia, please consult a physician to conduct a formal evaluation. If the doctor finishes his or her interview and feels that you do have schizophrenia, you should know that there are many medications available that can help you feel better. A future blog will discuss what questions many patients have found helpful to ask in the first few visits after the initial diagnosis is made.

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