When you have symptoms associated with abdominal pain and discomfort, such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or other issues, don’t pass your symptoms off as “something you ate.” These symptoms, especially when they keep happening, might possibly be something more serious, such as a metastatic carcinoid tumor (MCT). Take this list of questions to your next doctor’s appointment so you can get the answers you need to determine what’s really going on.

Before your appointment

You can do a few things before your appointment to ensure you’re prepared to make the most of your visit with your doctor. Here are some suggestions:

Call your doctor’s office and ask about any paperwork you may be able to fill out prior to your appointment. This can give you more time to think about what medications you’re taking and other important information you should include.

Create a list of the symptoms you’re experiencing that you hope to have addressed. Also include how long you’ve been experiencing them, how often, and what seems to make them worse or better.

Create a list of the medications, vitamins, and supplements you’re currently taking. Include dosages. This can help your doctor track patterns in your daily symptoms and how the medications you’re taking may affect them.

If you’ve seen other doctors regarding your abdominal symptoms, gather records from those visits. These include doctor’s notes, test results, or imaging results. This information will help your doctor determine what testing has been done so far.

Keep this information as well as your list of questions in a folder or on your smartphone if possible so you can easily bring it with you to your appointment.

Also consider asking another person to attend your appointment with you if you feel comfortable doing so. This person could act as your record-keeper — have them write down important recommendations and answers to your questions.

Questions your doctor may ask

Another way to prepare for your appointment is to identify some questions that your doctor may ask you. By considering these questions in advance, you’ll be better prepared to answer them at your doctor’s office.

Following are some examples:

  • How would you describe your pain? Where specifically does your pain occur?
  • What makes the pain worse? What makes it better?
  • What times do you most notice your symptoms?
  • About how long have you experienced this pain?
  • Have you possibly experienced any injuries that could be causing your symptoms, such as a fall or car accident?
  • Have you been diagnosed with abdominal problems? Are you taking any medications currently related to your abdominal symptoms?
  • Have you recently lost weight (whether intentional or not) or experienced other changes to your body?

Of course, a doctor may ask you other questions in addition to these. Whatever the questions, take your time in answering them to ensure you provide the most thorough answers possible.

Questions to ask during your initial appointment

If you’re visiting your doctor for the first time over the symptoms you’re experiencing, some of your questions will be basic. Nevertheless, the answers will help you understand a diagnosis or a workup your doctor may recommend.

These questions include:

  • What are your initial thoughts regarding my symptoms?
  • What kinds of conditions do you think my symptoms could mean?
  • What are some of the tests you would recommend regarding these symptoms?
  • How concerned should I be regarding these symptoms?
  • Are there symptoms I may not have mentioned to you that could help you make a diagnosis? (Some conditions can cause seemingly unrelated symptoms. For example, in the case of an MCT, a person may experience wheezing in addition to stomach upset.)

Questions to ask during follow-up appointments

It’s possible that you could go to your doctor and not leave with a diagnosis after your initial visit. Instead, they may refer you to a specialist or make recommendations regarding diagnostic testing. These could include blood testing, imaging scans, or a scheduled procedure, such as a colonoscopy. In this case, it’s important you understand the recommended testing or treatment.

Here are several examples of questions you may need to ask to ensure you understand your doctor’s recommendations:

  • What do you think is most likely causing my stomach pain?
  • Until my next appointment, are there restrictions I should follow?
  • What do you think the outlook is for my current symptoms and condition?
  • What are the reasons for the referral to a specialist?
  • What are the reasons for additional testing? What are the possible results of these additional tests, and what do they mean for my condition?
  • What are some symptoms that may indicate I need to call your office or seek emergency care?
  • How do you think this condition is affecting my overall health and other chronic health conditions?

You should ask any and all questions until you feel your doctor has answered them to your understanding. It’s fine to ask for clarification about a term you may not have heard before.

The takeaway

If you have abdominal symptoms you’re concerned about or that have lasted over a week, don’t ignore them. The earlier you seek answers, the earlier you can start receiving treatments that will reduce your symptoms.

After your appointment, if you aren’t satisfied with your doctor’s explanations, you can always seek a second opinion. Another doctor may be able to answer your questions more thoroughly or in a way that you can better understand.