Having irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) or chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) often results in feelings of embarrassment. Don’t let this keep you from getting the help you need. Here’s a list of questions to ask a doctor about your symptoms as well as advice on how to get the conversation started and feel comfortable doing it.
Tips for starting a discussion of your symptoms with your doctor
Some people get anxious around doctors. As a result, they forget details of their medical history or what they were going to ask. To prevent this from happening, be sure to prepare for your appointment in advance. Here are some tips that may help:
Write down your major medical history: This includes any medications and supplements you’re currently taking and their dosages, any surgeries you’ve had in the past, and any conditions you’re currently receiving medical treatment for. This helps to give your doctor an overall picture of your health.
List current or recent symptoms: Bring along any other information you may have, such as what makes your symptoms worse or better, and how often you have bouts of constipation, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
Create a script of what you might say: Your doctor will likely start by asking you about the current state of your health or what caused you to come to their office. Your response should be something similar to this:
“I came to you today because I’ve had continued problems with my stomach and bowel movements. For more than (X amount of time), I’ve had the following problems: (explain your symptoms). Here are the medications I currently take. I would like help to reduce these symptoms (or name another goal).”
Write down examples of times your condition has really affected you or when your symptoms were especially severe: This can give your doctor a better overall picture of your condition and what you’re going through.
While it can be difficult to discuss your symptoms with a doctor you don’t know well, it’s important to remember that they’re well-versed in symptoms and experiences a person with IBS may go through. If they use terms or explanations that aren’t clear to you, it’s okay to ask for further clarification. The more honest and open you are in your discussion, the more likely a doctor can help you with treatments.
If you have someone in your life with whom you feel comfortable discussing your symptoms, you may wish to bring them to your appointment. Having another person there to listen to the doctor’s recommendations and ask questions can be helpful to ensure you remember all the information provided. This also helps to cut down on any anxiety you could have related to the appointment.
Questions to ask your doctor about your symptoms
You likely have questions that range from “Is this normal?” to what your outlook is for managing symptoms. The types of questions to ask depend on where you are in the stages of IBS treatment.
For example, if you’re seeking an initial consultation with your doctor or gastroenterologist, a specialist of the digestive system, these are some questions you could ask:
- Is it possible my symptoms are caused by another condition?
- Do you think I have IBS?
- What risk factors do you perceive I have for IBS?
- What over-the-counter medications should I not be taking for my symptoms?
- What dietary changes do you recommend considering my symptoms?
- Reviewing my medications, do you think any of the treatments you’re recommending could negatively interact with them?
- How much do you think my symptoms could improve with treatments?
- Should I be concerned about other health conditions because I have IBS?
- What symptoms should I seek immediate medical attention for? What symptoms should I call you about if they occur?
- How soon should I schedule a follow-up appointment with you?
If you’ve been taking medications or made dietary changes to control your IBS, some questions you may ask related to your symptoms include:
- Do you think these symptoms are a side effect of treatments?
- How do you think my symptoms are doing after treatment?
- Are there other dietary changes I could make to control my symptoms?
- Are there any other lifestyle changes I should think about to control my symptoms?
- Do you recommend any alternative or complementary therapies for my symptoms?
- What should I do if my symptoms start to come back or worsen?
The goals for discussing your symptoms are to establish realistic expectations about treatments and to ensure you understand the side effects of any medications your doctor may recommend. It’s also a good idea to ask about symptoms that may indicate an emergency, such as blood in your stool or constipation that lasts beyond several days.
Tips for building a positive relationship with your doctor
Having IBS-C or CIC can impact every facet of your life. Your doctor plays a key role in helping you live a healthier, fuller life with the condition. For this reason, it’s important to establish a positive and open relationship with your doctor. If you’re considering a new gastroenterologist, some of the questions you may wish to ask include:
- What are your regular office hours? If I should have a question outside of office hours, is someone from your office accessible?
- How long do I typically have to wait to schedule an appointment with your office?
- Are you board certified in your specialty? How do you stay current on the latest treatments and medications?
- Do you have other medical specialists you recommend I work with, such as a dietitian or nutritionist?
Most people typically have a 15-minute interaction with their doctor at each appointment. By preparing in advance what questions you may have and what you would most like your doctor to know, you can do your part to maximize the appointment.
In return, you should expect your doctor to be focused on you, listening to your symptoms, and taking into consideration your individual health and lifestyle.
Sometimes your doctor may be firm with you in recommending lifestyle changes that may be difficult, but could benefit your health. Examples include quitting smoking or eliminating high-fat foods from your diet. However, your doctor should never push you into treatments you’re unsure of. Your doctor should also be realistic with you about your treatments and overall outlook for care.