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How to Start a Conversation With Your Doctor and Explain Your Symptoms and Concerns

Visiting a doctor can be intimidating, particularly if she or he is your new physician. 

The office is usually crowded and the health care team is often busy. It’s easy to get in the examining room and forget the issues you want to discuss, or get overwhelmed at the thought of discussing concerns, particularly if you find them embarrassing.

Here are some tips on how to start the conversation with your doctor, to help you explain your symptoms and concerns.

Prepare Beforehand

Whether it’s your first visit to this doctor or you’re seeing your regular physician, prepare before your appointment.

If you enter the examination room prepared, you can maximize your time with the doctor, have all your questions answered, and be assured that your questions and concerns will be addressed. 

Bring Your Medical History

Even your regular doctor may ask about current health conditions. But in particular with a new doctor, you need to be prepared to discuss your medical history.

That includes1:

  • A list of the medications and dosages you’re currently taking
  • Your immunization record
  • Copies of any medical record information
  • Any radiologic films, CDs, DVDs, videos or written reports related to your health
  • Your family history, particularly if there is a known hereditary condition in your family

It’s a good idea to bring a list of medications, and the dosage, including your prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal remedies or supplements with you. Depending where you live, you should also take any insurance information, and details on any other doctors you see.2

Make a List and Take Notes

Don’t be afraid to enter the appointment with a notebook or a piece of paper and pen. Prior to your appointment, make a list of what you want to discuss. For example, do you have a new symptom you want to ask the doctor about?2

Perhaps you have suddenly been bothered by a frequent urge to urinate. You may feel embarrassed about this condition, but the condition known as overactive bladder is very common and there are effective ways to manage it. It’s important to discuss this and any other concerns and questions with your physician.

If you have more than one item to discuss, put your items in order. Ask about the most important ones first – don’t put them off until the end of your appointment.

Then, as you and the doctor discuss your concerns, take notes. Jot down any questions that arise as the doctor is examining you, and make sure to take notes so you understand what was said. It’s easy to forget exactly what was said by the time you get home. If you don’t understand, keep asking questions until you do.3

If you have more than one health concern, you can also include that information in your initial appointment request. That helps the health care team best plan your visit.1 For instance, if you suspect you have a pelvic organ prolapse, the physician will know that you will need to be examined specifically for this condition. The doctor can also prepare to discuss a treatment plan with you. 

Bring Someone With You

A healthcare provider should be open to having someone attend your visit with you, if that’s what you want. Your spouse should be present if you’re talking about reproductive health, for instance, or if you’re struggling with painful sex. If you’re ill, family and friends can be an important part of your support team.1

While you may want to be alone with the doctor for part of your visit, a companion can also remind you what you planned to discuss, and can take notes for you if needed. Sometimes another person hears items you don’t, or can help you remember what the doctor said.2

It’s also important that you can hear and understand the physician. Remind the doctor if you have trouble hearing, if you wear a hearing aid, or if you need help with interpretation if English is not your first language.2

Be Ready for Any Question—and Ask Any Question

As your doctor gets to know you, there may be some questions that take you off guard. For instance, you may be asked about family history, but also about your personal health and lifestyle, such as how much you drink and whether you smoke.

Doctors may also collect demographic information such as your race and ethnicity. That’s because those factors can impact some of your health risks and benefits, and your health care provider can use this and other information to address your unique health care needs.1

And be sure you ask any question you may have—don’t be embarrassed! Your doctor is your partner in your health care, and you need to be comfortable asking questions and seeking advice, whether you have longer than usual periods, unusual back pain, or you’re embarrassed about suffering from recurrent urinary tract infections.

Find a Doctor

If you don’t have a regular doctor, use our Physician Finder to seek out a women’s health specialist. Then you and your doctor can get to know each other, and you can be confident that your health concerns will be discussed and addressed.

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