I use visits instead of visit in the heading, because, based on my experience and others who I have met with digestive issues, it can take a long time for you and the doctor to figure out why you are not feeling well. The lesson I finally learned was that if I was going to get better, I had to educate and advocate for myself. My experience was that doctors did not take my symptoms seriously until I did. Unfortunately, that was after many years of not feeling well, discussing my symptoms with multiple doctors throughout those many years, and a visit to the emergency room. Even now that I have been diagnosed and have been provided with information on how to manage my symptoms, I still need to keep educating and advocating for myself if I want to be as healthy as I can be.
As the public and doctors are learning more about specific digestive disorders instead of diagnosing patients who have stomach issues with the catchall “irritable bowel syndrome,” we have more information to help guide us. If you have been having issues with your digestive system for a while and either have had no relief or helpful recommendations from your doctor, here are some suggestions to better advocate for yourself and to, hopefully, be diagnosed correctly.
- Start a journal on how you are feeling. Include what you eat, what your symptoms are, and how long they last. Having these details and a history can better aid you and your doctor in your diagnosis.
- Read up on different digestive disorders, such as celiac disease, diverticulitis, fructose malabsorption, lactose intolerance, etc. to identify similarities between those symptoms and how you are feeling.
- Be mindful of your bowel movements. Are you constipated, do you have diarrhea, do certain foods affect you differently than others?
- Ask your primary doctor, family, and friends to recommend a good gastroenterologist who is knowledgeable on various digestive disorders. This surprised me, but not every GI doctor is.
- Find out what tests are being done on different disorders and ask to be given these tests. Your doctor should advise you on which ones make the most sense for you but be an active partner in your health plan.
- Do not give up. If one doctor is not helpful, find another one. Trust yourself, you know how you feel. You deserve to live as symptom free as possible.
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