Dr. Brian Lum
4 Questions To Ask Your Doctor (Especially If You Have A Chronic Illness)
Updated: Feb 2, 2022
Whether you have a chronic illness and visit your doctor frequently or you only go every few years - you'll want to make the most of your visit.
This appointment is your opportunity to get personalized, expert advice for all those things you keep googling: "is my persistent stomach pain serious?" "do I have depression?" or "can I treat my arthritis naturally?"
Come to your appointment armed with a list of any severe or new symptoms so you can mention them first.
Think about asking these four questions too.
1. "What Lifestyle And Dietary Changes Can Help Me?"
This question will tell you a lot about how your doctor thinks.
Despite mountains of research proving the efficacy of diet and lifestyle in mitigating the symptoms of even advanced illness  - some practitioners are still only interested in treating symptoms.
Unfortunately, by the time symptoms are present, a disease process is already well underway.
Whether you have increasing joint pain, reduced energy, difficulty losing weight, trouble sleeping, anxiety, or low mood - there are usually simple, scientifically-backed techniques that you can employ to help your body regain balance naturally.
Even if medication is necessary for your situation, diet and lifestyle are still forms of treatment that you can self-administer multiple times a day to complement your treatment.
These changes could be as simple as starting a specific diet to reduce your symptoms of IBS or avoiding well known migraine triggers so you do not have to take your medication as often.
Another change could be balancing stomach acid production naturally so you don't have to take your over-the-counter anti-acid tablets every day.
If weight loss is your goal but you have been struggling with progress, then your doctor should want to know about your diet, your activity level and run some hormone, thyroid, and inflammation panels to see if there are biological reasons holding you back.
2. "What Screenings Or Testing Should I Be Getting?"
The recommended ages for mammograms, colonoscopies and heart screenings change, but your doctor should have an idea of your risk level and test schedule based on your symptoms, a physical examination, your age and your family history.
If you have a family history of, let's say, colon cancer, your timetable for your first colonoscopy may be moved up.
There are also tests that can measure how your body is functioning at a deeper level. These are the kind of tests that I, as a functional medicine practitioner, specialize in.
If you have gastrointestinal symptoms, a comprehensive stool analysis can assess nutrient absorption, localized inflammation and if you have an infection and, if you do, what kind it is.
A blood test can detect a bacterial infection, high levels of systemic inflammation (from something like a fungal infection in your sinuses), and the presence of Epstein-Barr virus (a common cause of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia).
It is a red flag when you are prescribed symptom suppressing medication (like pain killers or anti-nausea pills) when no testing has been done to confirm a diagnosis or to investigate why you are having your symptoms.
Testing For Diagnosis Confirmation
Often I get new patients who have been treated for years for conditions like Crohn's Disease or Mast Cell Disease when no testing has ever been done to investigate further into their diagnosis.
They frequently have different conditions altogether or the diagnosis itself is just the tip of the iceberg of what is really going on. These patients have been wasting time, money and energy treating the wrong thing.
A diagnosis is rarely cut and dry. Many conditions overlap and can be easily confused with each other if a patients case is not carefully investigated.
Crohn's disease symptoms can be the same symptoms as a food allergy, a small intestine bacterial overgrowth, or neurotransmitter imbalance.
There should be no guesswork involved in a diagnosis, if the primary test to confirm a disease is not always reliable, insist on secondary markers.
It is also important to get testing for the potential causes of your symptoms or particular condition. Your diagnosis is just a medical label, it does not automatically indicate a path of treatment. It is merely a starting point of a clinical investigation.
3. "Why Am I Taking These Medications? What Are The Dangers? Is it Possible For Me To Ever Get Off Of Them?"
Ok, so that's three questions. But if you are taking medications, all three are very necessary to know the answer to.
Most people in America now take prescription medications and medical error is now considered the 3rd leading cause of death .
It is important to understand why you are taking your medications, the safe limits of them, anything you can't take with your medications, and any possibilities that exist that could get you off of them safely.
Many Medications - After Dietary And Lifestyle Changes - Are Unnecessary
Let's use high cholesterol as an example.
While a doctor's first impulse may be to put you on a statin, ask what is the upper limit of cholesterol he or she wants you under and why.
The usefulness of the total cholesterol marker has become questionable, but it is one of the few markers almost universally tested. Statins also have been known to cause severe complications and yet, for many people, fail to offer additional protection against heart disease.
If cholesterol is a genuine concern for you and your doctor, then dietary changes (which have been known to produce beneficial changes quickly) should be employed to assist your progress. At the very least you should be instructed how to employ your diet as a way to reduce overall mortality.
Before you go off of any medication be sure to get the ok from your doctor as there may be dangers associated with stopping it or instructions on how to taper off safely.
4. "Am I In Good Health?"
This sounds like an obvious question, but a routine appointment can go by quickly - the doctor asking small questions and assessing a few key values (blood pressure, heart rate) - without issuing a final concluding assessment.
Don't shy away from getting an honest opinion from someone whose business it is to keep others healthy.
It can be as simple as 'so, am I healthy?' or 'do you think something I can improve on?'
You may get a surprising response, it may be; 'well, I would feel better if you lost some weight and reduced your stress so your blood pressure was lower' or 'I think the pain in your back will get worse if you continue crossfit without taking a few weeks rest.'
Define 'Good Health' For You
Health is not the absence of symptoms.
People can die suddenly from a heart attack or are diagnosed with advanced cancer and yet they had no outward sign or symptom of disease.
Health is a state of which your body is strong, resilient and vibrant. It often takes a skilled clinician to decipher where symptoms begin and health starts.
So when you ask your doctor "am I in good health?" - ask for the reason behind their answer.
Unfortunately, certain symptoms (like weight gain, mood swings, and sleeplessness) are deemed as 'unimportant' by some practitioners because they are not necessarily life threatening.
Even 'harmless' symptoms can be very upsetting and should always be taken seriously as they can be indicative of a larger imbalance.
If you feel like something is being missed and your symptoms are ignored - then insist on answers, a second opinion, a specialist or a functional medicine practitioner.
What If You Are Not Getting Answers?
A second (or third) opinion should be encouraged for severe conditions and you should never feel like it is not your place to ask questions.
If you feel like you have been incorrectly diagnosed, or just been given 'band aid' medications to cover up symptoms, then a more multi-faceted approach may help you.
Functional Medicine Is An Option For You
Functional medicine is uniquely suited to help those with chronic, complex conditions. It may be that your symptoms don't fit in to the diagnosis of a particular disease, but you are sick and don't know how to find relief.
It may be that for your particular condition or symptom, the only option you are offered are painkillers.
Most of my patients had been told by at least one doctor or nurse that their symptoms are 'all in their head.' I have yet to meet a patient where that is the case.
Functional medicine is great for those who want to get to the root of their problem and use natural treatment methods to get better.
I uncover why you feel like you do, what happened to cause your cascade of symptoms to begin and what needs to be corrected for you to return to health.
Functional medicine employs the latest diagnostic testing available (including genetic testing when necessary) to get an accurate picture of the deep function of your body.
Manual soft tissue manipulation is used to reduce pain and optimize neurological function, blood flow and improve your lymphatic system..
Most patients feel better after their first appointment.
Nutritional interventions and the use of medical grade supplementation are utilized as natural and effective treatment of deficiencies and chronic inflammation.
My goal is for you to regain health so that your body can functional optimally - so you don't have to be on supplements, medication or special diets forever.
Remember, be your own health advocate, ask as many questions as you need to feel confident in your care, diagnosis and treatment.
If you would like to speak to me to ask questions about functional medicine or how I can help you, please schedule a Free 15 Minute Consultation or call or text my office at 913-728-5291.
My clinic offers functional medicine appointments as well as manual chiropractic treatments. I do online consultations for those out-of-state or outside of the United States.
If you think that you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Nor should you ever delay seeking medical advice or treatment due to the information contained on this Website.