Pain Management | Chronic Pain vs Acute Pain
How to Describe Chronic Pain Symptoms to a Doctor
Accurately describing your symptoms to your health care professional is crucial in obtaining quick, correct and efficient treatment. Your doctor, physician's assistant or nurse is trained to ask tough questions in order to treat you as effectively as possible, but being able to concisely convey how you are feeling can help them a great deal. As a patient, you can be in control of your own healthcare, and you are your best advocate. It may seem difficult to record your symptoms in a way that is explanatory to others, but in these instructions, you can learn how to document how you are feeling.
Documenting Your Symptoms
Before you go to your doctor, get a piece of paper and a pen.Think clearly about a general idea of what is wrong. (This should be easy, just think about what needs to get better!)
- For example, "My hand hurts," or "I am vomiting."
Try to pinpoint exactly which part of your body is experiencing the symptom(s).
- Example: "My pain is more toward my wrist, but further from my fingers," or "My stomach is in pain."
- If it's easier than writing it down, you can draw a picture of where on your body it's hurting the most.
- If you're in the doctor's office, or hospital, just point to where the symptoms are occurring.
Think of adjectives or actions to describe exactly how the pain feels.(The more creative, the better. This gives health care professionals an idea of how to treat your symptoms, and get you feeling well faster!)
- Example: "My wrist feels like someone is stabbing it with a knife." or "my stomach feels like it is burning"
- Write down all the words you can think of that describe how you're feeling.
Remember and record when the pain or symptoms began and also how often you have them.
- Example: "My wrist started hurting about a week ago," or "my stomach felt weird this afternoon"
- If you can, document a specific time and date of each occurrence. If not, just an approximation is enough.
Think about whether there was something in particular that triggered the symptoms.(This might a complicated step. Sometimes it's hard to find one thing that got you sick, but even a faint idea may help.)
- Example: "I hurt my wrist after I fell off my bike," or "I felt nauseous after I ate those shrimp."
- Determining the source of the symptoms can affect what kind of treatment you will receive.
- Even something obscure in the past may be what caused the symptoms to occur now, so write down everything you think may have caused your symptoms.
Record it if there is something now that causes your symptoms to get worse.Do your symptoms make it harder to do everyday things? Does anything alleviate your symptoms?
- Example: "My wrist hurts more when I try to handwrite, but it feels better when i rest," or "I vomit more frequently as time goes by."
- Writing down these causes can help health care professionals diagnose you at the time of your visit.
Consider your medical history.Have you had any other medical problems recently that may or may not be related to this? (This is a very important step! Even symptoms that may seem completely unrelated could have something in common.)
- Example: "I have knee problems too," or "This is the third time I've been sick like this in 6 months."
- You should keep a detailed record of every time you have a symptom similar to the ones you're having from now on, so that you can start to see patterns in your own health.
Finish by noting down your questions.After you've written down this detailed description of your symptoms, make sure you write down any questions or concerns you have regarding this. Do your own research, if you are able to.
- Keep your record in a safe place, and update it as symptoms progress.
Seeing Your Doctor
Keep track of your medical history and be ready to talk about it.Before your visit, try to remember if you've had any tests for this problem previously. Also, think about the medications or treatments you've had previously, as well. You can call the hospital or facility that you had the test done at, and have them send a copy of the results to your doctor's office. Also, bring in any results that you have at home.
Bring support if needed.If you need to, bring a relative or a friend who will help you remember as much as possible. Every detail counts!
- Keep a drawer in your home of everything that has to do with your health, including bills, lab reports, letters from your doctors, documentation of procedures and prescriptions. It may seem overwhelming, but having it all there helps you and your doctor in treating you the most effectively.
- If you are a caregiver for a patient who does not speak English, or has difficulty conveying how they are feeling, these steps may be able to help you notify a health professional of more details.
- Obtaining the correct data from the patient aids in diagnosis of other patients with similar conditions, or in preventing the spread of disease entirely. The data that any given patient gives us can be used to treat thousands of future cases, so accuracy is key in creating current treatment plans.
- Dealing with insurance companies to cover procedures or diagnostic testing can also be a hassle. However, submitting a thorough and detailed record of symptoms can alleviate much difficulty.
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