‘Trust me, I’m a Doctor’: Being Honest with Your Healthcare Professional

How much your new shoes really cost you, the real reason you cancelled on your friend last week, where that last biscuit went…we’re all economical with the truth from time-to-time. But when it comes to your health, honesty truly is the best policy.

This is especially true if you are living with multiple sclerosis, which means regular trips to the doctor. While medical appointments might seem intrusive or awkward at times, the relationship you build with your healthcare provider will ultimately impact upon your health and well-being. Just like any good working relationship, this requires open communication and that means being truthful about your symptoms, concerns and, yes, even your bad habits. Here are a few ways to develop a healthy rapport with your doctor:

Tell the truth about physical changes

There’s a reason why your doctor asks you how you are. Sure, he could examine you, and work out plenty from your records, but the most important information comes from YOU. That weird sensation you’ve been feeling in your hand, the difficulty you’ve had focusing on your work, those annoying bladder issues that have been keeping you awake at night…all of these may be significant, and may alter the management of your treatment.

Unless you speak out, your doctor will assume everything is fine, when the truth is some changes, however small, could make a difference to your symptoms. Of course, admitting problems to ourselves can be a hurdle (does this mean my condition is getting worse?), but feeling too proud or ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Keep a diary of any physical changes and hand it to your doctor if that makes it easier.

Fess up about bad habits

We all have our vices – even doctors! Healthcare providers are not there to judge, but to help you manage your condition in the best possible way for you. This means full disclosure about how much you really drink, smoke, exercise and eat. Smoking, for example, is associated with a significantly higher risk of progressive disease, and at an earlier age, so this is something your neurologist needs to know about. Rather than lectures, you’ll get the treatment you really need as well as support. If you feel you’re drinking too much, for example, or you want to quit smoking, be honest and your doctor will give you a nudge in the right direction. There’s no shame in asking for help – it’s what your doctor’s there for!

Be honest about your energy levels

Up to 90% of people living with MS experience fatigue, with more than half finding this the most troublesome symptom of the disease. Unfortunately, some people don’t mention this to their doctor while others worry that the issue isn’t serious enough. However, your physician needs to know about if it is significantly affecting you. It may affect your treatment and have an impact on your mental health and mobility. Rather than dismiss fatigue, your doctor will be able to explore underlying causes (bladder issues disrupting your sleep, for example; sleep apnoea is also a possible cause), and offer practical advice on managing your energy levels.

Be open about your feelings

When your doctor asks how you are, he or she doesn’t just want to know about your physical aches and pains. Your psychological and emotional well-being is just as important. So if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed (all common symptoms in MS) speak out. Dealing with a chronic condition can definitely take its toll on your spirits, but there’s no need to suffer in silence. In fact, half of all people living with MS see their doctor about depression at some stage.

We all want medical advice from someone we can trust. But honesty is a two-way street. Be open with your doctor about your symptoms, habits and feelings and he or she will be far more likely

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