Diagnosis Solved! How to Solve a Medical Mystery

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Less Obvious Symptoms

When you come down with a cold, for example, you usually know right away what's going on. But how do you decipher symptoms that are less obvious?

The first distinction you have to make is whether it's worth worrying about or not. My rule of thumb comes from something I learned in medical school: When a patient complains of a headache, there are three types of headaches worth worrying about: first, <worst, and cursed.

If it's the first, for example, if you don't have headaches but suddenly you're getting headaches all the time, you should see your doctor. Then, there's worst. If you have headaches but this is the worst headache you've ever had, then that is something to be concerned about. And last is cursed. Say you have headaches every so often, but now you also have blurry vision or another symptom that comes with the headaches. You should definitely see a doctor.

That's what we learned about headaches, but I think that for any symptom you might use "first, worst, and cursed" as a good way to judge what to worry about. Most of us are veterans when it comes to stomachaches, but if you've never had an upset stomach and now all of a sudden you do? That's worrisome. The same goes if it's the worst or if it's cursed with anything else out of the ordinary.

Are there any symptoms you should always worry about?

Yes, anything that involves blood or a loss of consciousness. Short of that, it gets subtle, but this reminds me of Dr. Benjamin Spock. The opening line of his famous book Baby and Child Care is, "You know more than you think you do."

And that's so true. Doctors understand diseases and bodies, sure, but patients are in fact the experts on their bodies and their disease. People are worried about their bodies, of course. We all know that this is all we have -- this is the wagon that we're in for life. And we want it to be well. But remember that when it's not well, your body will tell you.

That's what patients need to recognize: You know way more than you think you do. You know when you're sick. So if you're trying to decide whether you should go to the doctor, ask yourself, is there any blood involved? First, worst, cursed? Listen to your body, and if you feel like you need an expert's opinion, then see your doctor.

Continued on page 3:  Talking to Your Doctor

 

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