A few weeks ago in a telephone conversation with my mom, she mentioned that one of my sisters had been having some problems with her stomach for the last month or so. Being concerned, I called my sister directly to talk to her about what was going on.
"I don't know," she said. I'm eating a healthy diet, but for the last month or so I've had a lot of diarrhea and even some vomiting. And my stomach hurts so much after I eat that I just don't want to eat anymore."
"What are you eating?" I asked.
"You know, healthy stuff. Fruits and vegetables and high fiber bread."
I explained to her that a healthy diet isn't healthy if it's making you sick. And if it's making you sick then you have to do something to figure out what is causing the symptoms. First, change what you're eating so that you can eat and get some nourishment into your body. And second, make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to discuss the problems.
"It's especially important to see a GI doctor about this," I told her, "since dad and I both have IBD, I'm gluten intolerant, and mom has IBS. You don't want this to get anymore out of hand than it already sounds like it is."
There is no checklist I can give you to decide when it is time to see a doctor about a certain symptom or set of symptoms. But if you don't have a definitive diagnosis (of something like IBD, IBS, diverticulitis, etc.) and you are experiencing unexplained diarrhea, blood in your stool, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, weight loss, fever, joint pain, etc. that has persisted for more than one or two weeks then it's most likely time for you to make an appointment with your family doctor or a gastroenterologist.
If you've read my Sharepost about what IBD is vs. IBS, then you know that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not, or should not, be diagnosed until all other possible illnesses are ruled out. IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), on the other hand can be diagnosed with tests and procedures like stool samples, blood samples, colonoscopy and/or endoscopy.
Going to the doctor these days can be daunting. I know that before a doctor's appointment I can have a clear list of problems or issues that I want to discuss and as soon as the doctor walks into the exam room my mind goes blank. More than once I've walked out of a doctor's office thinking, "Nuts I forgot to ask her about this, and this, and that."
Now, I go to my doctor's visits armed with information that they can see and use to help me. Before my appointment, I write down any significant symptoms I'm having, and changes in symptoms since I saw them last, and changes in my diet, bowel habits, etc. I can't tell you how many times I've actually had a doctor say, "Thank you, this is very helpful," when I hand them my one-page health overview. Notice, I said, one page. Not five, or 20, or 100 pages. Everything that I need them to know is written on my computer, in easy to read 12 point, Times New Roman type. I put my name and birth date on the top of the page and concisely, in a bullet-point manner, list my symptoms, or concerns, or questions. This gives my physician an easy-to-read, quick overview of me since the last time I saw them. Plus, it makes sure I get all of my concerns and questions out on the table where they can be discussed and answered. I make two copies of this document and give one to my doctor and keep one for myself.
When we are not feeling well it's logical that we want a doctor to gives us answers, and hopefully a magical remedy that will make us feel tip-top in less than 24-hours. Unfortunately, I'm here to burst your bubble. I grew up in family of dentists and I've seen my fair share of doctors in the past 12+ years for my IBD and a few other health issues. And there are two things I know: 1. a doctor is a human being with an advanced degree and more experience in their field of health than me or you. 2. A doctor is not a wizard, a God, a computer, or a miracle worker.
Why have I told you this? Because. It's simply silly to think that a doctor is going to be able to give you a definitive diagnosis quickly. And even when a diagnosis has been arrived at, chances are there will not be a magical cure or pill you can take that will cure you of all your ills in a minimal amount of time. When you see a doctor about gut issues you have to have reasonable expectations. Know that arriving at a diagnosis will most likely involve some testing, if even just a blood test and a stool test. Also realize that a first diagnosis could later end up being incorrect - many illnesses have similar symptoms. For example, some symptoms of IBD and IBS are similar, but as you read in my previous Sharepost, these two illnesses are vastly different as are some of their treatments. Also realize that while for some diagnoses, prescription medications might help ease some symptoms but they might not help ease all of them.
If you've read my book, Living with IBD & IBS: A Personal Journey of Success (www.ibdandibs.com), or are a regular follower of my Shareposts here, then you know that I do take Rx medications to help my IBD symptoms, but that I have also seriously altered my diet, my lifestyle, my career, and how I live. If you are diagnosed with a gastrointestinal illness like Crohn's disease, or Ulcerative colitis, or even IBS, chances are you will have to make some of the same types of changes I've had to make.
Also keep in mind, that you mind not find the right doctor for you on the first try. I've moved around a bit in the past 15 years and with each move comes what I call the "new doctor shuffle." I try to talk to neighbors, friends, and co-workers to get the name of doctors who they like and have good experiences with. But a relationship with a doctor is similar to any of your other relationships. Some you'll get along with well, others not so well. So, it's not uncommon for me to go through one, or two, or even three doctors until I find one with whom I feel I have a good fit. You have to be comfortable with the person who is going to help you care for yourself. And if that means shopping around a little to find the right one, then I think it's worth it.