Talking to your doctor when you have an anxiety disorder is not easy. Some of the main symptoms of anxiety are chronic worrying, fear and panic. It stands to reason, then, that you may be afraid to go to the doctor. Talking to someone about your anxiety can be scary. You may be afraid that the doctor is going to tell you that you have some incurable disease. You may be afraid of social situations, including speaking to receptionists and medical personnel. But chances are, you also want help. You don't want to feel anxious and afraid all the time.
In a previous post, Avoiding the Doctor's Office, I discussed ways to help you manage your fear of the doctor's visit. But getting to the doctor is just the first step. Being prepared is the key to making sure you leave the doctor's office with the information you need to best manage your condition.
Below are ten questions to ask your doctor (be sure to write down the questions pertinent to your situation and bring paper and pen with you to take notes on the doctor's answers so you will remember what has been said.)
How did you come up with a diagnosis of anxiety disorder?
Because there is no blood test or physical test that points to anxiety, your doctor probably used information you have provided to diagnose your anxiety disorder. He or she probably took into account the type of symptoms you are experiencing, the intensity of your symptoms, and how much your symptoms interfere with your daily activities. Symptoms of psychiatric disorders can overlap; such as inability to pay attention can be a sign of ADHD or depression as well. Ask your doctor what specifically pointed to anxiety rather than a different disorder.
What type of anxiety disorder do I have? Anxiety is a generalized term for many different types of disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD), and post traumatic stress disorder are some of the main types of anxiety. Each has it's own symptoms and may require a different treatment. Knowing which type of anxiety you have will help you learn more about it, understand it and create an effective treatment plan.
Can you treat me or should I see a specialist? Although many family physicians have a general understanding of anxiety disorders, they may not be the best professionals to see on an ongoing basis. Anxiety disorders can cause a great deal of difficulties and have a variety of different symptoms as well as a number of different treatment options. A medical professional that specializes in psychiatric disorders may be better able to help you. If the doctor that diagnosed you is not the best person to carry out treatment, ask for a referral.
What are my treatment options? Treatment for anxiety often consists of psychotherapy, medication or some combination of both. Cognitive behavioral therapy has also been found to be helpful. There are a number of different medications available, including antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Treatment should be tailored to fit your individual situation and symptoms, but your doctor should be able to explain the different types of treatments available and why he or she would suggest a certain type of treatment.
What are the side effects of the medications? Although each person reacts to medication differently and most people will experience only mild side effects for a short period of time, there are common problems your doctor should discuss with you in order to help make the best decision.
Will medications interfere with treatment for other medical conditions? There could be interactions with current medication that you are taking and you should be aware of. In addition, you may need to know if medications for anxiety may worsen other conditions and signs you should look for. Which symptoms can you expect to go away and when should you contact your doctor. Your doctor should be aware of any and all other medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medications, supplements and vitamins.
Can I contact you in an emergency? Anxiety and panic attacks can strike at any time, not just during normal business hours. If you need assistance at night or on weekends, you want to know how to contact your doctor. Your doctor should be able to tell you how to reach him or her (or another doctor that is on-call) should an emergency arise.
What steps can I take to help prevent or minimize an anxiety or panic attack? Your doctor or therapist should be able to work with you on developing strategies for minimizing or reducing your symptoms during an anxiety or panic attack. You may be given deep breathing exercises or have anti-anxiety medications you can take. Knowing in advance the steps to take can help you from developing a full-blown panic attack and help you stay in control of your anxiety.
What lifestyle changes can I make to help minimize my anxiety? Adding exercise to your life, eating healthy meals, practicing meditation and getting a good night's sleep are some of the lifestyle changes that have been shown to reduce anxiety. Your doctor can help you determine how much physical exercise you can do safely and may offer suggestions on diet or helping you to sleep better. Your doctor should be able to help you develop a plan for incorporating these and other lifestyle changes.
How long should I take to feel better and how will I know if treatment is working? These are really two related questions. The first, how long will treatment take to begin working is an individual question and one that you and your doctor need to discuss. The second question you play an important role in answering. Keeping logs and monitoring your own progress can help your doctor modify treatment when necessary to make sure you are making the best progress possible.
When receiving treatment for anxiety, or other psychiatric conditions, keeping the lines of communication between you and your doctor is extremely important. Jot down additional questions you may have in between doctor's visits and keep track of how you are feeling on a daily basis so you can share this information with your medical professional.