10 Things to Know Before You Go To the Doctor

Patient Expert

It's December, and I know you're all busy, but it's also the month to see a doctor. For those of you who have Flexible Spending Accounts through you employer, or your partner's employer, you need to use the money in that account by the end of the year. For those who have insurance, usually your deductible begins again in January, so now's a good time to make an appointment and ask those questions you've wanted to ask for some time.

If you haven't had a mammogram this year, do that first. Some places give free mammograms or very inexpensive ones--call your local hospital or clinic and find out if they do that.

Then, if you think you may be in menopause, or you know you are, or you are having hot flashes or other annoying symptoms, make an appointment with the ob/gyn or general internist you've been putting off seeing.

You won't get unlimited time with the doctor or nurse practitioner, so before you go, have this information in hand:

  1. Have any of your close relatives--sisters, aunts, cousins, mother--had breast cancer? If so, the doctor will want to know at about what age, especially before menopause or after. If you can't find out precisely, estimate--before age 45 or after? On your mother's side or your father's side of the family?   This info is valuable in assessing your risk for breast cancer but also in helping you determine whether hormone replacement therapy is right for you.
  2. Is there any heart disease in your family? Think back to your grandfathers and grandmothers, plus aunts, uncles, your brothers or sisters and so on. Heart disease isn't just dying of a heart attack, it could be something called chronic heart failure (CHF), high blood pressure, a-fib (irregular heart beats), or coronary artery disease. Does anyone complain of chest pain or shortness of breath? Maybe someone in your family has had bypass surgery or stents placed to open up coronary arteries, or a pacemaker or defibrillator? These all indicate a heart problem. Is anyone in your family on home oxygen? Find out why.
  3. Anyone in your family had a stroke, or something called TIAs (transient ischemic attacks, or mini-strokes)?
  4. Ditto with diabetes. Have any of your blood relatives been diagnosed with it? Back in your grandparents' day, it might have just been referred to as high sugar. Ask your older relatives about these things, it's important. Don't be afraid to ask Great Aunt Sally, "What did Uncle Bill die from at such an early age?" You might get, "Oh, his heart just gave out."   Ok, good to know. Diabetes and heart disease often go hand-in-hand.
  5. What was your blood pressure last time it was taken? Do you get dizzy or lightheaded when you stand up? Or at any time?
  6. Does anyone in your family have osteoporosis?
  7. Have you gained or lost more than five pounds in the past year? What kind of exercise do you get? Don't fib here-it isn't in your best interest.
  8. Do you know how old you mom was when she started menopause? Do you know what her symptoms were like?
  9. What are your symptoms?   Make a written list and be specific. Don't downplay anything that is bothering you, from hot flashes to painful intercourse, from lack of desire to bad moods. Your doctor can't read your mind.
  10. Take with you a list of all medications AND vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements you take. Don't leave anything off the list, even if you feel a bit sheepish about your supplements, and tell your doctor why you are taking them and whether they are working for you.

Armed with this info, your next visit to your health-care provider will be more efficient and you'll both be better informed. Many of us get a little tongue-tied when the person in the starched white coat enters the exam room. This list will help both of you.