Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Keeping Track of Symptoms

This advice supplements my recommendations for being a prepared patient.

Presenting your physician (or other health care provider) with measurable and specific data about symptoms is so valuable towards making an accurate diagnosis in a timely manner. In plain English--if you keep a log of your symptoms (or those of your child, etc.) you will help your doctor figure out what is going on with you more quickly.

Here's an example. Instead of simply telling the doctor that you are concerned about frequent headaches. Keep track of the headaches by making a simple list that includes specific details such as: Time and date of the headache; where the headache was located (across the forehead, one side of the head only, etc.); was the pain sharp or dull, throbbing or aching, etc.?; how severe was the pain using the scale 0 to 10 (the worst pain in thw world); how long did it last & what made it go away (ibuprofen, tylenol, something else?); what made it worse (bright lights, movement?); were there other symptoms present (nausea or dizziness, something else?); any special activity or event that occurred just prior to the headache?

You can certainly alter that example to provide details on any number of health issues or complaints. When my son was small he suffered from those awful leg aches that wake kids from a sound sleep--we call them growing pains in my family. I mentioned my concerns to the pedicatrician at the Army hospital during a well-child visit for my son. Her advice was to put a list on the refrigerator to write time and date when the growing pain occurred and which leg was affected. She gave me specific advice about following up IF the pains were occurring with a certain frequency. At the end of a few months, I was surprised to see that those pains didn't occur as often as I thought they did (we often magnify in our minds regarding such concerns). And there didn't seem to be a real pattern to the leg pain. I stopped worrying about it, and in time he grew out of that stage--and into another . . .

It's so helpful to keep track of occasional health issues that are difficult to pinpoint by keeping a log or symptom diary. If there is a physical sign that you can actually see--take a digital photo for the doctor to see. Having a photographic record of a condition (wound, rash, swelling, etc.) provides a powerful opportunity to observe trends of worsening or improvement.

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