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wundayatta's avatar

What is your process for deciding when to seek medical attention?

Asked by wundayatta (58377 points ) January 14th, 2010

Whether it’s a physical ailment or a mental one, I think people often have difficulty deciding when it’s time to go see a doctor. For me, it’s about mental health. There are a whole range of symptoms for bipolar disorder, and it can be really hard to decide when those symptoms call for a trip to the shrink. Sometimes you find out about a new symptom you didn’t know about before, and realizing you’ve been experiencing that for a while now. It makes the case stronger, but does it make it strong enough?

There’s that gray area between thinking you can handle it on your own, and deciding it’s time for help. What are your thoughts like when you are in the gray area? How do you decide when it’s time to pick up the phone? Do you go back and forth about it in your mind? Or is it always pretty clear to you? Does it change as you have more experience with an illness? Do you think your gray area is pretty big, or quite narrow? If you are in the health care profession, do you think you have a harder or an easier time making these decisions? Why?

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30 Answers

Sophief's avatar

I knew I needed help when I was crying really bad with a handful of pills in my hand and blood pouring out of my skin. Some help I got though.

nebule's avatar

I’m constantly going to the doctor because I have been thinking for a while now that there is something seriously physically wrong with me…in various parts of my body… but after many tests and them all coming back negative I’m beginning to think that either a) there is nothing wrong with me and it’s all in mind (lol…that’s a whole other discussion!) or b) there is something wrong with me but they can’t figure it out… so I don’t need them anyway…

So unless I begin to feel like I think I’m going to die of something that they missed and it’s all going to go horribly wrong…(again) I’m going to try not to “waste [their] time” and instead practice meditation, good nutrition and PMA as advised.

Pandora's avatar

I don’t know about mental but as for physical, I decide to go seek help when I can’t function normally or if I feel I may have a illness that time won’t necessarily make disappear. Like a minor cold can be treated at home but if I’m running a fever for more than a day or if it is a suddenly high fever, than I make a trip to the doctor. If I’m suffering from a possible failure of a major organ, I go to the doctor. Ex. would be, problems breathing, heart pain, severe acid reflux, hives, problems urinating, or severe constipation or the runs, or if my blood pressure where to feel high, or extreme migranes. It usually has to be something I feel can have long term damage if ignored.

As for mental, I think it has to depend on how clear is your mind when you actually need help. For some, part of the illness is thinking your are fine. I had an aunt is thought she was fine when she was ill. She thought everyone else had a problem but not her. My uncle had to institutionalize her several times because she would never agree to seeking help when she was ill.

gemiwing's avatar

I have two separate guides (action plans)

Mental:
All of these must be met for stage two:
Lack of physical care (bathing eating etc)
High score on Goldberg Depression Index OR
High score on Mania Survey
Thoughts no longer controlled via PRN meds

Stage one- go to hospital.
All symptoms above plus any of these:
Hubbs says go (it’s our agreement. He says go and I go. No questions asked)
Self-harm.
Plan for self-harm.
Depression/Mania survey high scores for two weeks, test taken every day or more often.

Physical

Pain (1–10) higher than eight.
Pain (1–10) lower than eight that lasts more than three days.
Seizure lasting longer than three minutes.

I no longer go to the doctor for (or even call):
sprains
bleeding
headaches
broken toes
swollen knees/inability to walk
seizures caused from blood sugar issues.

frdelrosario's avatar

Well, first I ask Fluther.

MissAusten's avatar

I only go to the doctor if I’m sure it’s something I can’t wait out or treat at home. It’s been a while since I’ve had anything more than a cold or stomach virus—about 4 years or so. This probably isn’t a good idea, but if I think something really odd is going on, I’ll google it. TMI alert! One morning I woke up and my pee looked like iced tea. It completely freaked me out, but I didn’t want to rush to the ER if I didn’t need to and my dr.‘s office wasn’t open yet. I read all kinds of stuff online and decided it wasn’t an emergency, I probably had kidney stones, and waiting until my dr.‘s office opened would be OK. That was indeed the case, and I even got to experience a CT scan for the first time!

With my kids, however, I have more of a “better safe than sorry” attitude and take them to the doctor, or at least call the doctor, much more often. Any kind of rash, a fever that doesn’t go away quickly, something that could be strep throat, a stomach bug that lingers too long, etc. One sign of a good pediatrician is that he or she doesn’t make you feel like you’ve overreacted or wasted their time when you bring your child in for what turns out to be nothing. :)

Bluefreedom's avatar

As a diabetic, it doesn’t take much for me to decide to go see a doctor if I’m sick. My endocrinologist has reminded me, several times, that illness in a diabetic can have a moderate to sometimes high impact on blood sugar levels so it’s important to maintain a very healthy lifestyle and to seek medical attention promptly if you’re very ill.

dpworkin's avatar

I am uninsured, and have no income, so a single serious illness could be a disaster that ends my college education and sets me up for a substandard life for however many years I have left. The result of this has been a fear of seeking treatment for anything. I just try to let my immune system handle it.

Two years ago I collapsed at school, and was taken by ambulance to the local hospital, where it turned out that I had been slowly bleeding to death for a few days. I tried to leave because I knew I couldn’t afford it, but they convinced me that I would die if I did, so I stayed 5 days and was presented with a $20,000 bill. That meant one less year of funding for my education. Now I pretty much live in fear.

daemonelson's avatar

It depends, really. I found out a couple of psychologists I’d gone to were completely batfuck insane, they tried to use acupressure acupressure treatment is just the same great placebo effect of acupuncture, without the needles for depression and getting over a fear of public speaking. So now I think I’d probably wait a little while before something is wrong mentally, since I now know the kinds of things that can get through the system.

For other physical things, I tend to go to the doctor if something lasts for more than about a day.

Shuttle128's avatar

My girlfriend has been frighteningly agoraphobic, to the point of having severe panic attacks. These attacks prevent her from doing things that she would otherwise like to do. In fact she must plan her days in such a way as to prevent these occurrences. Both she and I agree that she needs to see someone about this issue; however, she does not have insurance and neither of us have an income. We’ve been trying to work on exposing her to these situations and developing coping mechanisms but we simply cannot afford to see a professional.

I know that the gold standard of deciding when it is time to see someone is if the problem interferes with your life. I would genuinely like for her to see a professional as her condition interferes with her wishes.

nikipedia's avatar

@Shuttle128: You may be able to find a therapist with a sliding scale or free/low-cost treatment through your county. If I were you I’d start with NAMI and see what you can find.

My process for physical ailments is something like:
1. WebMD
2. Dr. Shilolo

If I can’t fix the problem on my own and it’s unlikely to go away by itself, at that point I’ll go to the doctor.

Mentally, it’s never gotten bad enough to seek medical attention. So I don’t know what it would take. I think if my work started slipping badly enough for other people to notice, that would probably be my cue.

Daisygirl's avatar

I rarely go to the ER, I’ve went there once in the past 5 years and that was only because I couldn’t breathe and I felt like I had 3rd degree burns on my face and ears (and I was diagnosed with 4 or 5 different infections going on) I haven’t been to the doc in 3 years but I just now made an appt just so I can get some feminine work done. So all in all, unless I feel like I’m on my death bed or I break something (hasn’t happened yet… knock on wood) I’m not going. My mom was a hypocondriac, everytime I looked cross eyed at her I was in the ER. My dad is the total opposite, he had a stroke and fractured 3 ribs and his pelvis along with getting a concussion. I had to drag him to the hospital because he refused to go (it’s only a flesh wound… yeah, he hit the fridge head on)

casheroo's avatar

Physical ailments: Completely depends. I’m usually uninsured, and only insured currently because I’m pregnant. I have a good relationship with my family practitioner, so if I feel a UTI coming on or that I have a sinus infection..I know I can call and ask for an antibiotic. They still want to see me, but do not charge me for the visit, unless I get blood work done, or anything that is sent to the lab…they get around this by doing certain tests in office. I greatly appreciate it.
I probably wouldn’t go unless it was an emergency, such as a broken bone or if certain symptoms didn’t subside. Otherwise, we just can’t afford it. My husband hasn’t had health insurance in over 8 years now…and since I’ve known him he’s gone to the ER once on workman’s comp, and to a minute clinic (which was a waste).

Mentally- I feel I have gotten to a point in my life where I can pinpoint exactly whats going on. I know when I’m getting anxiety that is not normal, and when a sadness engulfs me… I’d say this sort of thing scares me the most, because in the past I had great health insurance and could go into inpatient care immediately, and get a lot of attention for my problem. Now, I have to worry about if we can afford therapy and then just take medication without fixing the source of the issue. I don’t like thinking about what would happen if I had a mental breakdown. I’d probably put my family into financial ruin, and that in itself makes me panicky.

I’m very intune with my body, so I would hope I’d recognize when it’s a true emergency.

Ron_C's avatar

It’s pretty simple for me. If I can’t stop the bleeding or the pain is more than I can stand using tylenol or ibuprofen.

nebule's avatar

*I always have been actually but this really does make me grateful for having the NHS in the UK… how much is health insurance over there guys? what’s the deal with that?... maybe I should ask a separate question…but it might be dead straightforward.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I the USA, you go see the doctor if you are pretty sure you will die if you don’t. With bizarre medical charges, huge deductibles and co-payments, even the insured can’t afford to see the doctor unless they are terribly sick.

In Canada, you see the doctor if you feel sick and think you may require a doctors opinion or some sort of treatment. If you are emotionally distressed and feel you can’t cope, you see your doctor for advice or for a prescription if one is needed. Damn the socialized medicine. Are you Americans ever lucky you don’t have to deal with that commie stuff.

Ron_C's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence Yea, I feel sorry for you Canadians too. We just changed insurance companies. The last one wanted a 30% increase. The new one costs the same as our old policy and has lower out of the pocket fees but also higher limits. We keep paying more and more while getting less and less.

I tore a hamstring muscle at work and Workman’s comp refused to pay emergency room and hospital fees, they said it wasn’t covered. My leg was black and blue from my hip to my toes but they said it was because of pre-existing condition. Now a collection agency is trying to collect $4500 from me. I don’t think there is a deep enough place in hell for health insurance executives.

evandad's avatar

This is another tattooed toughie. If I’m sick or I’m in pain.

casheroo's avatar

@Ron_C We’re dealing with something similar..hospital after us for money when it should have been workman’s comp..and of course the company tanked so we have no one to even blame. It’s a mess :(

Ron_C's avatar

@casheroo both my company and the insurance company are still in operation. All I got from the case worker is that she said that she is going to disallow it with no excuse or reason given. I truly hate the whole health insurance industry. They create nothing, they treat nothing, the help no one and still skim 20% off the top.

augustlan's avatar

I’m uninsured as well, with many chronic ailments. I avoid going to the doctor/hospital like the plague because I just can’t afford it. I am at least 6 months behind on routine testing, both because I can’t afford it and because I’m afraid it will reveal something that will make it harder for me to get insurance again later.

I will go to the doctor for bronchitis (once or twice a year) because I also have asthma, and need a nebulizer steroid treatment that I can’t get at home. Last week, I ended up in the ER due to severe pain in my abdomen. I couldn’t stand up, and literally thought I was dying. My daughter and husband insisted that I go, and I was in no position to disagree!

For mental issues, it may take me a little longer to even realize that I’m having a problem. It’s so insidious… it just sneaks up on you. Almost always, it takes someone else pointing out the obvious to make me notice that I’m backsliding. If I don’t “snap out of it” within a week or so, I go.

nebule's avatar

my goodness, it really does sound like a sad state of affairs over there :-(

Ron_C's avatar

@lynneblundell yes the U.S. health care system is broken and our leaders seem to be fighting like hell to insure that it stays that way.

MissAusten's avatar

I hate the state of our health care system too. It’s ridiculous what we pay for health insurance for a family of five. It’s all out of pocket because my husband has his own business. Besides paying our monthly premium, we have high deductibles that (so far) have never been met in any given year. All this money going out, just in case one of us is in an accident or has a serious illness.

Ron_C's avatar

@MissAusten I was skeptical when the whole managed care business started. We used to have Blue Cross/Blue Shield that took care of everything. They were a non profit organization whose only function was to see that doctors and hospitals were paid. It was reasonably priced and efficient. I saw no reason, and still don’t, for a third party to be involved in my health care. Since it started prices have gone up and care has gone down. On the bright side, the CEO’s of the major companies made 147 Billion dollars. I guess that money will trickle down to us.

nebule's avatar

…and (this might be a really stupid question but…) do the Doctors have to have insurance too?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

After reading everyone’s answers, I am struck with such an intense feeling of empathy for you Americans and outrage at what the reality of the American Health Care crisis represents.

The current system involves rationing of health care at multiple levels:

Insurance companies deny the insured coverage for both health preservation and health restoration.

The healthy are forced to ration their access to medical care because keeping themselves physically healthy would certainly ruin them economically.

The sick have to ration their use of medical care to the next to worse case scenario even if they are insured.

The opponents of Health Care reform change talk about how these proposed changes would result in rationing of Health Care and death panels. That is the current system!

Families with sick elderly have to decide if medical treatment for grandma would wipe out the family economically!
They have to ask themselves, “How much longer can grandma live anyway?”

People with chronic illnesses live on a self-imposed death row because staying as healthy as possible is not affordable!
Getting treatment now means not being able to afford any treatment when their health has declined from unnecessary neglect of their health problems earlier!

My grandmother is 102 years old. She can still walk (with a walker for balance), hear (with her hearing aids) and she is amazingly healthy for someone whose life expectancy when she was born (in 1907) was 50.5 years. She loves to talk on the phone and talk with others where she lives. Her memory is intact for long ago events and recent ones.

She has had access to free health care for nearly 45 years (when Canada started universal health care) and inexpensive medical care before that. I danced with her on her 100th birthday.

You know who in congress and the Senate must be unseated to allow real change to occur! Get ANGRY! Get actively involved. Good luck!

casheroo's avatar

@lynneblundell Yes, they have their own health insurance (I would presume), but are you referring to malpractice insurance? They have to cover their butts because doctors get sued over everything.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

It’s got to be something pretty bad I can’t clear up or patch up on my own for me to go into a doctor’s office. If it can be dealt with with some aspirin, neosporin, superglue and bandages/tape then I stay away from the ER where I’d run a bigger chance of catching pneumonia. 2009 was the first year in six I didn’t contract bronchitis and/or pneumonia.

Mental crisis was tough. In my mid 20’s I went through a bit of a breakdown and avoided seeing a counselor, doctor or accepting medication for months until I was threatened by my boss with the loss of my job if I didn’t get help for myself. Luckily I had a very supportive and patient spouse at the time.

Ron_C's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence—exactly right and there is a vast movement to unseat all of the republicans and more than half of the democrats. The end result will be that the incumbents will hold their seats and the republicans are likely to gain control of the Senate. I am seriously thinking about buying a retirement home in Canada. I am sick of the corporately own government we have here. U.S. citizens have no rights anymore, only the duty to pay taxes and serve in the military.

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