Thursday, 31 January 2013

When You Have A Chronic Illness Do You Ignore a New Symptom or Consult Your Doctor?

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When you have a chronic illness one of the major decisions you have to make is whether you ignore a new symptom or consult your doctor.  This may not sound so huge, but actually it is.  It is physically and psychologically exhausting to always be aware of every ache and pain in ones body.  Yes, we're ill, but we have to also try to live as normal and full lives as possible and that is not going to be possible if we're always looking at the physical state of our bodies.

I remember I went through a phase at the beginning when I became aware of every part of my body; I knew which movement was affecting which muscles and joints because I could feel the pain and the discomfort.  In time it just became something that I started to live with.  Whenever I'd have a new symptom, I did not consult my doctor unless the pain really was unbearable or it completely affected my every day state of being.  This was mostly because the stress of visiting my doctor and trying new medications was too much effort at that time.  I was never really concerned that my doctor would think I was a hypochondriac because he had been my doctor for my whole life and knew me and my family very well, but I know that other people are concerned about running to their doctor with every symptom in case their GP writes them off as hypochondriacs.  Doctors are our gateway to treatment, so if your doctor does not take you seriously, it could damage your chances of receiving the care that you need.

But the most crucial aspect of deciding whether to see your doctor or not is that a new symptom could be indicative of a completely illness altogether.  I have to admit, I have been guilty of chalking every last symptom up to ME/CFS and that has not always been the case.  Most recently, I became extremely light-headed and weak and was passing out and was also getting chest pains.  These were not entirely new to me so I figured I was having some kind of relapse, but the symptoms were more severe than I had ever had them before so I was forced to see my doctor.  It turned out I had a chest infection and a simple salbutamol sulfate pump cleared it up and I felt better.  This is a very mild example, but what there have been so many reports of people ignoring symptoms which later turned out to be something more serious, even cancer.

As if having ME/CFS or even any other Chronic illness is not difficult enough, we are forced to find a balance between becoming too obsessed with our health and becoming too complacent about having an illness and assuming that every symptom we get is because of it.    All we can do is trust in how well we know our own bodies and listen to our instincts.  Also, having an understanding doctor really helps us feel comfortable in discussing any worries we may have without fear of being ridiculed or jeopardising access to future treatment.

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