Whether it’s been one month or one decade since you’ve received your IBS diagnosis, talking about it with your healthcare provider (HCP) can still be difficult. Describing your symptoms out loud and discussing your concerns for treatment can feel awkward or embarrassing.

While you have nothing to be embarrassed about, preparing for your appointment can help cut back on some of the discomfort and make for a better treatment outcome. We’ve got tips and strategies for how you can do that here.

Bringing up your symptoms for the first time

Perhaps you’re seeing a gastroenterologist, a specialist in digestive health, for the first time. Or maybe you’re trying to start a conversation about your symptoms with your physician. To help you make the most of your appointment, take some time beforehand to collect the following information:

Make a list of any medical conditions you may have and are being treated for. Think about any problems in each part of your body, such as your lungs, heart, kidneys, skin, blood, and endocrine system.

Make a list of all the medications you currently take, their doses, and how often you take them. Also include any medications and foods you may be allergic to. This can be very helpful information should your doctor decide to prescribe a medication to treat IBS.

Reflect on your IBS symptoms:

  • When did they begin?
  • What are the chief symptoms?
  • Does anything make the symptoms worse or better?
  • When the symptoms are at their most noticeable, how long do they last?
  • How has having these symptoms affected your life thus far?

Also consider starting a symptom diary to show your HCP: Record the foods you eat, details about pain and stool patterns, and comments on overall stress and anxiety levels.

Write down any questions that you would like answered at the appointment. Examples include:

  • Is it possible I have another condition that’s not IBS?
  • What recommendations do you make to help me find relief?

Having all this information at your fingertips can help you feel more focused and prepared for your appointment, which in turn might boost your confidence.

Tips for starting the conversation

If the thought of discussing your IBS symptoms bothers you, creating a script for the appointment may help you. You can even practice this script with a loved one to feel more comfortable when the time comes to see your doctor.

Consider starting your conversation by sharing with your doctor that you were nervous about the appointment and that some of your symptoms are difficult for you to talk about. Being up front with your physician can help them understand it took some courage and confidence for you to schedule the appointment.

Here are some other approaches on starting the conversation:

  • “I came to see you today because I’m having severe discomfort with my stomach. For about three months now, I’ve been having pain, gas, and diarrhea that don’t seem to be related to a virus or other illness. I’m concerned it could be IBS.”
  • “I made this appointment to talk to you about my IBS. I’ve been receiving treatment for a few months now, but my symptoms are still severely impairing my everyday life.”
  • “I’ve been having significant symptoms related to my stomach, and I think it may be IBS. I would like an evaluation of my stomach health to help me find some relief for this problem.”

However you choose to start off the appointment, state your initial concerns, a brief overview of your symptoms, and how they’re affecting you in your daily life.

While you may have several different symptoms, start with what symptoms you would most like help with. From the beginning, this lets your doctor know how important this is to you as well as your commitment to feeling better.

After the appointment, if you have additional questions related to disease process, treatments, or anything else that you discussed with your HCP, you can call their office. Your doctor or a member of their staff should get back to you to clarify these questions.

Strategies for navigating difficulties

Sometimes starting this type of conversation with your HCP reveals that the physician-patient relationship may not be the right fit for you. Doctors are people too, and it’s possible that personality and philosophy of care may not resonate with how you would like to receive treatment.

However, if you have a long-standing relationship with the doctor and would like to continue, here are some steps you can take:

  • When you call to make your appointment, request that the appointment be blocked for a slightly longer time than normal. If you have much to discuss, knowing that you have more time to speak with your physician could increase your comfort level.
  • Take someone with you to your appointment. Having another person who’s familiar with what you’re going through can help you to clarify terms you don’t understand and act as another advocate for your overall health.
  • If you’re too uncomfortable to say some of your symptoms out loud, write them down and bring them to your appointment. Your doctor can read the information and ask you questions without your having to discuss some aspects in too many details.

Your doctor is your advocate and should be committed to your health. If you feel this isn’t a priority for your doctor, it may be time to find a new one or get a referral for a second opinion or specialist.