When you have fibromyalgia, visits to the doctor can be confusing and frustrating as you search for answers and treatment for the many different fibromyalgia symptoms you may have. You may have many different symptoms and lots of questions. It can be hard to know how to address all your concerns in a short office visit -- or what your doctor needs to know to best treat your condition.
For help with these issues, we turned to Scott Zashin, FACP, FACR, clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas; Afton Hassett, PsyD, associate research scientist in the department of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center in Ann Arbor; and Kris Corleone, a fibromyalgia patient and founder and president of the New York Fibromyalgia Association. Each shared their thoughts on what fibromyalgia patients can do to get the most out of each office visit. Neither Zashin nor Hassett is treating Corleone for her fibromyalgia.
Whether you are experiencing painful tender points, deep muscle pain, chronic headaches, unending back pain, or neck pain, you know how fibromyalgia feels. People with fibromyalgia experience pain in ways no one else can really understand.
But what is pain? What causes it? Is fibromyalgia pain acute (short term) or chronic (long term)? And what impact does fibromyalgia pain have on every part of your life?
What’s the best way to prepare for a visit to the doctor?
Zashin: Spend some time getting clear on what you want to get out of your appointment. If you have specific reasons or goals for your upcoming visit, prioritize the top one to three that are most important to you. Examples of questions to ask yourself before going to see your doctor:
Are you looking for help with a particular symptom?
How does that symptom affect your life?
Does it stop you from doing certain tasks or activities?
When do your symptoms bother you the most?
Is there anything that makes it feel better? (Basically, the more specific you can be about your symptoms, the better.)
Are you unhappy with a medication?
Is it causing side effects? If so, what are the side effects?
Is your fibromyalgia medication not helping as much as you'd like?
Are you hoping to change your medication?
Corleone: Before my visits with the doctor, I think about any questions I have and write them down. Specific questions are generally best. Being open-ended leads to a broad and sometimes less satisfactory answer. I usually do a little research on my own, too. That way, I have some knowledge before I go into the appointment and I can ask educated questions.
I also call ahead to make sure my doctor has copies of any tests I’ve had done at other locations. That way, we can discuss the results at my appointment.
What should you bring to your visit?
Hassett: If it’s your first time seeing a doctor, make a one-page list of the basic information you want your doctor to know about you. This will give your doctor a quick snapshot of your most important information.