Help Your Doctor Make the Diagnosis
1. What are the symptoms? Be specific. Don't just say "Sometimes I have a pain in my stomach." Since more than 80% of health problems can be diagnosed based on information that you provide, make sure you can verbalize what you are feeling. Is it crampy? Does the pain come and go? Where is it located? Is it sharp or more like an ache? These specifics are giving information that your doctor can use as she thinks of the anatomy, physiology and causes of pain.
2. How long has it been going on? Try to be specific. "Awhile" doesn't mean anything to a doctor. That could be 2 days or two years. Did it come on gradually or suddenly? There is a different cause for any symptom that is chronic (over several weeks) vs. sudden or acute. Did anything precede the symptoms? Travel, trauma, life stress can point to different causes.
3. What other symptoms have you noticed? Don't worry if you give too much information. Everything is important. Fatigue, weight loss or weight gain, difference in balance or smell or taste? New cough or headache you have never had before? Change in diet or appetite or fever are clues that help the physician narrow down the diagnosis.
4. Other info that might or might not play a role. Do you drink alcohol or take drugs? Are you taking over the counter medication? Are you worried you have cancer or AIDS? By communicating these worries, the doctor can alleviate your fears or order the correct test to prove it.
Physicians are trained to think about the most serious, life-threatening conditions and then work backward when making a diagnosis. A good doctor doesn't just order every test in the book, they tailor the follow-up testing for the most likely "differential diagnosis". Most conditions will respond with easy treatment (or no treatment) so there is always time to make the tough diagnosis if the doctor and patient have close, tight follow-up.
If you are not completely back to normal after treatment, it is important to return and communicate the continuing symptoms. I always know if I have good follow-up planned (via email or another office visit) we will get to the bottom of the problem 100% of the time.
(btw: I can't stand the series "House")