Advocating for Your Health

I am not a medical professional and the information provided in this post is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

Something is wrong.

You don’t know what it is, but something isn’t right with your body. You may not have gotten an MS diagnosis yet, but you might suspect that it’s MS or something similar.

Going to WebMD tells you one thing, but you know that self-diagnosing is not the final stopping point. You call your General Practitioner and set up an appointment to begin the investigation process.

You’ve made it this far, but what is the next step to make sure you get some answers?

Healthcare Failings

Unfortunately, simply going to the doctor isn’t going to get you an immediate answer or an answer at all. This shouldn’t discourage you from going: in fact, it should encourage you to go even more and advocate for yourself.

But it is important to go into the process prepared.

Not everyone will have a smooth experience when talking to the doctor about health issues. If you are a woman, you are more likely to be dismissed for pain complaints. MS can cause pain, as can a number of other autoimmune diseases, so walking into the office may feel like preparing for battle: will my health care professional take my complaints seriously?

The answer depends. They will hopefully jump at the chance to figure out what is going on, but some may surprise you and be resistant to exploring your situation.

This post isn’t meant to disparage the medical system, but to shed light on the possibility that you may need to engage in personal advocacy. Being an advocate is important regardless, but having tools and a contingency plan will streamline and hopefully speed up the process of getting answers and treatment.

It is important to remember this: going in with a calm attitude and willingness to listen will help disarm any potentially defensive healthcare professional, but make sure to come in with questions and ready to assert yourself for answers if necessary.

Research and Ask the Difficult Questions

Unless you have a medical degree, there’s no way to be sure what is wrong.

WebMD is a decent resource, but there are a lot of jokes about how if you enter in the symptoms for a cold in the symptom checker will say you have cancer and are going to die within a week.

Jokes aside, going to see your doctor is the best solution to solving a medical problem, but try to go in with a list of questions so you stay focused on coming up with some solutions.

The Cleveland Clinic has a wonderful list of questions for your health care professional about your health and treatment. If more questions spring to mind, add them to the list and bring it with you.

Unfortunately, the process of preparing for the visit is going to be an uncomfortable one. If you are lucky enough to have a vague direction to research, you might find some of the answers or possibilities frightening or discouraging.

Use these moments of discomfort to prepare yourself for the possibility that these answers are true. It will give you an opportunity to research deeper into the matter and ask more meaningful questions.  Make sure you go to that appointment because only your doctor can work towards giving you an answer.

Don’t Take “I Don’t Know” or “Probably Not” for an Answer

In my experience, I “knew” I had MS three months before my actual diagnosis. I went into my GP and pointed out several similarities of my symptoms and MS from the research I did online. My GP shrugged and said, “no, I don’t think it’s that.”

I wanted my GP to be right and the dismissal that it was MS satisfied me, though I still felt frustrated by not having an answer.

If your GP dismisses you too quickly, don’t take that as an “all clear” sign. I wish I had pushed for a specialist referral for further testing over the MS possibility.

I was lucky that it took 10 months between my first flare-up and my official MS diagnosis. I have seen in MS groups that it can take years between the first noticeable flare-up and an official diagnosis. This may be part healthcare workers dismissing the patient’s concerns, and part inconclusive symptoms making it hard to diagnose in the first place.

If you are going on several years without an answer – do not feel discouraged. Find another way.

Second Opinions are a Good Thing

You may have been with your doctor or specialist for years, but if you feel that you’ve hit a wall with your treatment or you don’t feel like they are giving you the answers you are looking for, it may be time to look for a new healthcare professional.

Do not worry about offending your healthcare professional by asking for referrals to a second opinion.

Most doctors won’t be offended by your request because they either know you’ll get the same information/assessment or you will find satisfaction in another’s care.

This is a great article about the process for when to ask for a second opinion and how to go about it.

I acknowledge that I am privileged to live near a major metropolitan area so I am able to change doctors and still have access to another one within a reasonable distance if needed. This isn’t the case for everyone. If you live in a rural area, the National Rural Health Association has tools for how to advocate for your health in a limited resource situation.

Don’t Give Up or Stop

You may run into a wall or a resistant healthcare professional. Do not let this discourage or stop you from advocating for your health. This is a sign that you should keep pushing no matter what and may need to change doctors.

Even if everything goes smoothly, do not stop yourself from always advocating for your health at each appointment. Even if something seems minor or inconsequential, ask your healthcare professional because you don’t know if it’s a sign of something more serious. Many in the field would prefer to resolve a minor issue immediately than let it fester into a bigger and harder to manage the problem.

You are Worth it

The takeaway from this post is that you are worth it to maintain your health. Try not to allow yourself to be discouraged if you feel like your healthcare professional is not listening to you. You have a right to quality healthcare and you have a right to be taken seriously.

It isn’t going to be easy, but by going in prepared with some questions you will be able to begin the process of working with your doctor to finding a solution to your health issues and possibly a diagnosis. If your doctor brushes you off, don’t take this as a sign that nothing is wrong, but that you may need to push harder for a resolution and it may be with another doctor.

Go in prepared, calm, and assertive and you’ll be on the path of personal advocacy. It may not guarantee an immediate diagnosis, but it will give you the confidence to push forward and feel like you’re worth it as you take this journey.

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Featured Photo Credit: Michelle Melton

2 thoughts on “Advocating for Your Health

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