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Teaming up with your doctor

Knowing how to talk to your doctor and other members of your health care team can help you work together to keep you healthy.

Your doctor needs information from you to make an accurate diagnosis and determine treatment. There are no lab tests for mood disorders. And you need to let your doctor know what you want from him.

It’s always a good idea to be an informed consumer. But to get off on the right foot, it’s best to be respectful and avoid offering do-it-yourself diagnosis or prescribing. Your doctor relies on his/her experience treating people with varied symptoms who respond to treatment in different ways.

If you arrive at your visits prepared, you can both get the most benefit from them. Time is usually short. Information you can bring with you about your symptoms, background and life situations can be invaluable.

At your initial visit, provide:

  • A description of your symptoms — when they started, what makes them better, how often you’ve experienced them. If you know, tell your doctor what seems to set them off.
  • A list of family members who have had mental health problems. Family history provides important clues in diagnosing mood disorders.
  • An overview of your past psychiatric treatment, including medications and psychotherapy. Which meds worked, which didn’t, and what side effects were troublesome.
  • Medical history and any medical conditions you are currently being treated for. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are pregnant or intend to become pregnant.
  • A list of your medications: prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal products, and other supplements you’re taking. Don’t forget to include contraceptives. And tell the doctor if you have any allergies.
  • Honest information about your diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol or drug use, and sexual history. Withholding this information can be harmful.
  • Relevant life factors, such as past or current abuse or stressful lifestyle.
  • A notepad or tape recorder if you’re worried you’ll forget later what was discussed.
  • Your questions. If you’re not clear about what your doctor or nurse is asking you to do or why, ask to have it explained again. «Can you help me understand that?»

At subsequent visits, bring:

  • Questions and concerns. Before your appointment, make a list of what you want to ask.
  • Answers to questions. Do you feel better or worse? What symptoms and side effects have you experienced? Have you taken your medication on schedule? Keeping a mood chart or notes on a calendar will make it easier to keep track.
  • Information. Have there been significant changes in your life?
  • Patience. Doctors are often pressed for time. Your discussion may not be as long as either of you would prefer. You may want to ask to set up another time when you can discuss an issue more extensively.

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