The Mighty Logo

5 Steps to Ensuring You Get a (Correct) Diagnosis

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Being diagnosed with a disease isn’t something most people are looking to do, but sometimes, you just know something isn’t right, so you go to the doctor. Many times, with the power of the internet and those amazing medication commercials on TV, we sometimes self-diagnose and then expect the doctor to agree. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work that way. Here are five steps to ensuring you get a proper diagnosis.

1. Bring all the facts to your doctor.

If you are experiencing life-threatening conditions, go to the ER – skip this step and go immediately to the hospital. But if it is a concern you have, or you are noticing a difference in your life, start keeping a journal. Include what you’re eating, when you’re eating, weight gain/loss, any changes in sleeping habits, where and when you are experiencing the symptoms, etc. Documentation of trends can help you and the doctor come to a diagnosis and, more importantly, a treatment plan quicker.


2. Be honest.

Do not leave out details, and don’t exaggerate the truth. It doesn’t help anyone to have false information. If it is happening, say so, if it is not happening then don’t say it is. Don’t let the WebMD type of sites or those horrible medication commercials influence what is going on with you. If we were able to self-diagnose accurately, then why would we need doctors? However, providing honest information and feedback will help the professionals come to a quicker, more accurate diagnosis.

3. Ask questions.

Tell your doctor what your concerns are and ask questions that can help you both figure out if the concern is legitimate. If you saw something on TV or the internet that you think may be what is going on, ask your doctor for their opinion on that potential issue. A good doctor will explain why that isn’t the concern or why it could be a potential problem.

4. Listen to your doctor.

Provided they are a good doctor and are trying to help you, they are your best resource. Listen to what they say. For example, you may be convinced you have Parkinson’s disease based on the commercial you saw on TV last night, but the doctor knows there are a lot of other things that need to be ruled out before just making that diagnosis. In fact, by ruling out the other things, you might find your issue, put a treatment plan together and discover Parkinson’s disease wasn’t it at all. But if you don’t tell your doctor your concerns and then listen to his advice you may be wasting time worrying about something that isn’t anything at all.

5. Don’t settle when it doesn’t make sense.

In the rare occasion that your doctor won’t help you or cannot find the cause of the problem, continue to ask questions, research and discuss it with your doctor. There is no shame in asking for a referral to a specialist who may know more than a general practitioner about a particular part of your body. For example, if you have chronic sinus pain every day for a year, don’t accept the diagnosis that it’s just a virus. Perhaps after a while, you should ask to see an ENT. I am not a doctor, but if my doctor kept dismissing something that was bothersome to me as a “virus” for an abnormal amount of time, I would probably find a different doctor. Second opinions are often beneficial. Fortunately for most of us, this is not the way “good” doctors behave, so if you have a “good” doctor keep in contact with him, and work together to figure out what’s going on.

I was always a very healthy person growing up, rarely missed school for an illness and usually only went to see my doctor to get stitches for playing a bit too rough or to get a sports physical. After being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I found myself in the doctor’s office all the time with new questions and new concerns. One of my concerns troubled me, so I finally asked my doctor, “Am I now a hypochondriac?” It was a legitimate concern. My doctor took it very seriously and explained to me that my body was now acting differently than it ever had before and I should bring anything, even the smallest concern to him and let him decide if it was something to worry about, but he assured me I was not a hypochondriac.

That one conversation gave me more confidence than ever. I am the only person who knows what I am feeling, and I should tell my doctor, then listen to his advice and discuss intelligently any questions or concerns I have. In my adult life, I have done this. I take pages of symptoms and concerns in when meeting a new doctor. I tell them upfront that I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but here are the things I am experiencing. I say I will give them every bit of the information so they can let me know what should be a concern and what is “normal.”

These five steps have worked for me, and I am hopeful that they will help you too when it comes to discovering a diagnosis for you or your loved one.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Antonio_Diaz.

Originally published: September 19, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home