Preparing for a GI Appointment
By: Emma Brown
I am, by all accounts, an intelligent, successful woman with a college degree. So why do I become a blithering idiot every time my gastroenterologist (GI) steps into the examining room?
It may be because I know that his time with me is limited. Possibly it’s because I know that I’m going to have to discuss very personal matters (my pooping) with him. I am confident that the fact that he is fully clothed while I sit shivering on a table covered only in a paper smock does not help matters.
Whatever the reason, I know the moment that door opens, my mind is going to go completely blank, and I’m going to feel like a first grader in the principal’s office.
It happened again today.
I’ve been waiting several weeks for this appointment. I’ve been suffering far too long with chronic diarrhea, gas, bloating, and nausea. Frankly, I’m miserable for a significant portion of each day, and none of the over-the-counter medications have helped me at all.
Sure enough, when the doctor walked into the examination room this morning and asked how I was feeling, all I could think to say in response was “fine.” If I’m fine, then why in the world am I sitting in that room with exam table paper stuck to the backs of my legs?
It didn’t get any better as he proceeded to ask me the standard medical history questions.
Doctor: When did these symptoms first start?
Me: Uhmmm, maybe two months ago? Wait, no, it was at my nephew’s birthday party… that was May or June… no, October!
Doctor: What medications have you tried?
Me: Well, I tried the blue round one. Do you know that one? And the orange oval one for gas. Oh, yes, and my primary care doctor put me on a prescription medication that I take twice a day… hold on, the name is right on the tip of my tongue.
We continued like that for my allotted 15 minutes. What a waste of time for both of us! The doctor was no closer to understanding my problem, and I was no closer to getting better. Studies have shown that 85 to 95 percent of diagnoses can be made by taking a thorough medical history. With that in mind, I have vowed to be totally prepared going into my next gastroenterology appointment.
The minute I got home, I got on my computer to find out what information my GI doctor would find useful in assessing and diagnosing me. I collected quite a list, and I’ll share it with you so that you can get the most out of your next doctor visit.
1. In the weeks leading up to my next appointment, I’m going to keep a “Food & Mood” journal. I’ll write down everything that I eat and drink, including any medicines I take. I’ll also write how I feel both emotionally and physically. The journal is be a great way for the doctor to see my daily symptoms and pinpoint trends or habits that may be causing them.
2. I’ll obtain copies of any lab work or x-rays that I’ve had, and forward them to my GI doctor, so that he can take a look at them before my appointment.
3. A day or two before the appointment, I’ll begin to make lists of all pertinent information that my doctor needs to assess my complete medical history. I’m planning to include the following:
A. All of my symptoms, even seemingly unrelated symptoms such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, and a diminished sex drive – which can be helpful in diagnosing stomach problems. I plan to take one of several online quizzes that allow me to explore and document my symptoms and print them out to take to the appointment. The one that I plan to use was found here: https://sucroseintolerance.com/ .
B. All my prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and even herbal remedies that I’ve taken along with the dosage and frequency. In the case of a prescription medication, I’ll include the name of the prescribing physician.
C. Any allergies that I have, including allergies to medications as well as insects, plants, and even allergic asthma.
D. All of my hospitalizations, including recent incidents involving my stomach as well as any surgeries that I’ve had in my lifetime. For instance, the fact that I had my appendix removed when I was 13 may actually be affecting my digestive tract.
E. A truthful report of other factors in my life.
a. How much stress I am under both at work and at home.
b. Any smoking, drinking, or illegal drug use (never – in case you’re wondering).
c. Any problems with sleep, exercise, or sex.
4. I’ll make a list of any concerns or questions that I want to ask. Too often, I’ve remembered an important question as I was walking out of the doctor’s office, so it’s crucial that I ask questions during the appointment. Medical questions can be complicated, and I understand the answers much better when the doctor is explaining them to me face- to-face.
Wow! That’s a lot of information. Even if I could keep my wits about me when my GI doctor walks into the exam room, I would never be able to remember all of those facts and questions. Any or all of the information on my list may be the key to diagnosing my digestive issues and getting me on the path to wellness. Alexander Graham Bell wrote, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” In my next appointment, I think that preparation may just be my key to a healthy gut.