The Importance of Talking With Your Doctor About Digestive Issues

by Constance Pietrzak, M.D. Health Professional

Good communication with your physician is extremely important in your health care. When it comes to gastrointestinal issues, some people find it difficult or embarrassing to discuss symptoms openly. A recent survey supported by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) found that patients wait on average four years before discussing symptoms with a health care provider.

It is normal to feel nervous talking about bowel habits, bleeding issues, or lumps and bumps in the anal or rectal area. Nevertheless, it is important to communicate everything you can to your doctor in order to help with proper diagnosis.** Your doctor has seen it before**

What may seem unusual or embarrassing to you is definitely not to your physician. Your doctor has had some training in most fields in medicine and has seen just about everything. It would be hard to surprise your doctor with any concerns you may have.

In gastroenterology, we treat everything including excess gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, blood in your stool, changes in your stool, mucus, lumps and bumps in the anal region, pain in the anal or rectal area, and the list goes on. In addition, your doctor is a professional, and should never react in any way to make you feel uncomfortable. Maintaining a strong patient-physician relationship is a priority for physicians, and this is based on trust and understanding. Doctors want you to feel as comfortable as possible so that you can tell them everything.

Your doctor is there to help, not judge

Your doctor needs to gather as much information from you as possible in order to help you and give you the proper treatment. It is up to you to help your doctor help you. Again, they have heard and seen most everything, and regardless of the symptoms, they need to know in order to better treat you. Remember: They are not asking questions simply out of curiosity.

Come preparet is easy to forget all the things you would like to communicate with your doctor, especially when nerves start to kick in when you are actually at the doctor’s office. Before your appointment, write down all the things you want to let your doctor know, including symptoms, worsening factors, alleviating factors, association with certain foods or movements, and any over-the-counter or home remedies you have tried. Write down any questions you want to be sure your doctor addresses, as well.

Ask questions

When it’s your turn to ask the questions during your appointment, start with those questions that come to you during your visit. Your doctor will not mind if you ask questions throughout the encounter. He or she should even encourage it. This will help reinforce anything that is being explained.

At the end, turn to your list of questions you brought, and see if there are any questions remaining. Again, it does not matter how sensitive a topic might be: the doctor is there to be open with you, too. Even those questions about topics that might feel deeply personal, such as potential sexual side effects of treatments or affects on gas/bloating, bleeding, bad breath, etc., need to be addressed. Don't avoid them.

Write it down

During your encounter, write down what your doctor explains to you, how to take any medications, how to prepare for any tests, and which tests your doctor orders for you. If you have questions and do not want to interrupt your doctor, write them down so you can ask them later. Most doctors prefer that you take an active role in your own health. Also, it will help remind you of things you discussed with your doctor later on when you get home.

Open communication is imperative for good health care. It allows you and your doctor to work together as a team in maintaining your health.

Constance Pietrzak, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
Constance Pietrzak, M.D.

Constance Pietrzak, M.S., M.D., is a gastroenterologist with Advocate Medical Group in Chicago. Through her work with HealthCentral, she strives to expand knowledge on gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Follow Constance on Twitter for timely updates on IBD, and more.