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How to Get Your Doctor to Take You Seriously

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Updated: December 5, 2006

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Unfortunately most of us with fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue syndrome have had the experience of one or more doctors telling us that our symptoms are caused by stress, lack of exercise, or worst of all, that our problems are all in our heads. All too often our concerns are dismissed as imaginary or unimportant. So, how do we get our doctors to take us seriously? Following are five dos and don’ts that may help:

1. Do educate yourself.

A good doctor will usually respect and appreciate a patient who cares enough about herself to learn about her illness. FM and CFS have only recently begun to be recognized and accepted by many physicians. So, although your doctor may acknowledge what you have, he may not know a great deal about it. I have personally found that doctors are more willing to learn and to work with you on finding an effective treatment plan if they see that you are knowledgeable about your condition. You don’t have to become an expert; just know the basics. For a general overview of FM or CFS, see:

2. Do prepare for your appointment.

Don’t count on your memory or depend on the doctor to ask you all the right questions. Write everything down and take it to your appointment. At the very least, you should take:
  • Medication List – List all medications you are currently taking, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, supplements and herbal remedies. Don’t forget inhalers or any medicinal creams or gels you might be using. Your list should include the name of the medication, the strength of the medication (e.g., 50 milligrams) and the dosing instructions. (Some doctors prefer that you bring original containers of all medications.)
  • Current Symptoms – Make a list of all symptoms you currently experience on a regular basis. Describe the symptom as clearly as possible and note when the symptom began and how frequently it occurs. When listing pain as a symptom, try to describe the type of pain (i.e., stabbing, throbbing, sharp, aching), the location of the pain, how long it lasts, and its severity (using a scale of 0 to 10 with zero being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you can imagine).
  • Questions - Write down all of the questions you want to ask the doctor. Doctor visits can be stressful and there’s a good chance you will forget something if it’s not written down.
If possible, give a copy of these lists to the doctor to be included in your file. This will help ensure that the information in your file is accurate. It has been my experience that doctors are grateful when I give them nice typewritten lists they can refer to as we talk.

If this is your first visit to a new doctor, see Before You Visit a New Doctor for additional information you need to bring to that first visit.

3. Don’t whimper or whine.

When we’re sick and in pain, sometimes our voices take on a whimpering, whining quality. No one likes to listen to whining. If you have children, you know that you’re more apt to ignore the pleas of a whining child than one who makes his requests in a normal conversational tone. Even though we may not realize it, we tend to give less credibility to someone who whines – be it child or adult. You may not even be aware that you sound whiney at times. If you have any doubts, ask a family member who will be honest with you. When you talk with your doctor, you want your voice to sound calm and rational.

4. Don’t go in with a chip on your shoulder.

If you feel you’ve been mistreated by doctors in the past, it may be difficult to enter a doctor’s office without an adversarial attitude. But a “You’d better help me or else” approach will only serve to put your doctor on the defensive and label you as a troublemaker. It does nothing to lay the groundwork for a good doctor-patient working relationship. Yes, you have the right to be listened to and treated with respect. But you can’t demand respect, and if a doctor does not want to listen to you, you can’t force him to. The best thing you can do is try to communicate calmly and clearly with your doctor.

5. Do have realistic expectations.

Doctors are not miracle workers and there are no magic pills that will make these illnesses suddenly go away. With both FM and CFS, it usually takes much trial and error to figure out which treatments work for you and which don’t. Ideally, you and your doctor should work as a team – respecting one another and communicating clearly with one another. This way, together you can work to find the best combination of treatments for you. If you’ve given it your best effort and still feel like your doctor is not taking your concerns seriously, then it’s probably time to look for another doctor.

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