Talking to your doctor about digestive health

Talking to your doctor about digestive health

You may have had digestive issues for a while and you have summed up the courage to get an appointment with your GP. At this point it’s understandable that you could feel anxious and you easily fear that the GP would not take you seriously or dismiss you with just some generic advice.

You are not alone in this; many people feel apprehensive when approaching a healthcare professional who may, or may not, offer you a solution to your problem. And it’s particularly nerve wracking when it is such a sensitive subject.  

In addition it will not be helping that you know you have, maximum, 10 minutes appointment time to explain yourself clearly so you can get what you need! The clock is ticking and that’s actually making it harder to think clearly.

The best thing to do is to try and relax and imagine that you will discuss your problems with a trusted friend who will be there to listen and will be prepared to let you talk. You can help prepare by writing down notes and questions to bring with you to the appointment. This way you won’t forget anything important and you can write down what the doctor tells you, so you can go back to it later after the appointment.

BOOKING THE APPOINTMENT 

You can call or visit your GP surgery reception and ask to book a routine appointment. You may choose to see your own registered GP if you have met them before, they already know you well and you are comfortable to see them again for these issues.

If you are not familiar with all the doctors that work in the practice or you would like to speak with one who is particularly experienced in gastro-intestinal disorders, you may ask the receptionist about this. The reception team typically know which areas of interest and specialisation the various GPs have and they may be able to suggest a particular doctor for your consultation.

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE APPOINTMENT?

Your GP will ask about your symptoms, such as:

  • what symptoms do you have?
  • do the symptoms come and go or do you experience them constantly?
  • how often you get them?
  • when you get them? after eating certain foods or at random? (if you have not noticed any significant pattern)
  • how long have you had these symptoms?

It may be helpful for you to write down your symptoms for a few days or a couple of weeks so you can show our notes to your GP.

Also keeping a food and symptoms diary would be very helpful to your GP. You don’t need to find any correlation between foods and symptoms; the GP will read your diary and will be able to notice if a particular food may have caused subsequent symptoms.

Once you have told the GP about your symptoms and showed him/her your diary, the GP may feel your tummy to check for lumps or swelling. Once these basic checks are done, the GP may advise you to have some tests. 

There’s no test for IBS currently, but you might need some tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.

Your GP may arrange:

  • a blood test to check for conditions like coeliac disease
  • tests on a sample of your poo to check for infections and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

You won’t usually need further tests in hospital unless your GP isn’t sure what the problem is. In that case the GP may request a scan or other tests like a colonoscopy. 

DIAGNOSIS

If your GP thinks you have IBS, they’ll talk to you about the nature of the condition and what the treatment options are.

You may have had your suspicions but it might still be difficult to take in everything they tell you.

If you forget something and after the appointment you think of any questions to ask the GP, you can make another appointment to ask them and they should be happy to help you. 

In the meantime, you can search the IBS Network online for some more information you might find useful.

The GP may give you some advice on what to eat / avoid eating and how to ease your symptoms. Your GP may also prescribe some medicine to help with pain and cramps. Your doctor may also suggest some other therapies that could be helpful (for example CBT and Counselling for stress and anxiety which exacerbate IBS).

If you feel you have already tried the food exclusion option, and it has not helped, the GP can refer you to a Dietitian who will be able to advise you and guide you in managing your IBS. The Dietitian may decide that you could try a Low FODMAP diet and they will explain all that you need to know about the different phases and will monitor you along the way. 

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE DIAGNOSIS? 

You may have been referred to a Dietitian to try the low FODMAP diet and in the meantime, you can get some more information about it and be prepared for your appointment with the Dietitian. 

The FODMAP diet was created by Monash University in Australia to relieve IBS symptoms. The diet has been proven to be effective for at least 70% of patients who follow it precisely. 

It is important to have the guidance of a FODMAP trained dietitian as this diet can be quite complex and needs monitoring to avoid any nutritional issues as well as to improve compliance and efficacy.  .

After the GP refers you to the Dietitian, you could keep a food and symptoms diary which will be very helpful to your Dietitian to assess your diet and symptoms and advise you accordingly to manage them successfully.

For people living in the UK,  waiting for a referral to a dietitian may be quite a lengthy process due to the NHS waiting times. This can be frustrating and  it’s not uncommon for patients to consult privately with a suitably trained dietitian. Your GP may have the contacts of FODMAP trained – Dietitians who are able to guide patients through this specialist diet. Otherwise, you can get the information from King’s College London which trains Dietitians in the FODMAP diet in the UK or you can approach the British Dietetic Association for more information. We at Tummi, do our best to provide accurate information about the most up to date knowledge in IBS, treatments and resources. 

There are many websites and practitioners offering support and before you decide to meet any of them and pay for any particular treatment or consultation, you can ask for your GP’s advice as well. They will also be able to check that none of the treatments or alternative remedies that you wish to use, interact with any other medicines you take or any other conditions you may have. 

If you follow these approaches you stand a good chance of navigating the healthcare system and finding a lifelong solution to your digestive problems.