As some of you know, as a medical journalist, lots of my time is spent with doctors, in their clinics and hospitals, reading medical journals and talking to patients.
So when I became sick with a mystery illness a few years ago, I had no shortage of names in my contact book to call for expert advice.
Debilitating fatigue, nausea, and an inability to think straight were a difficult grab bag of symptoms for any doctor to assess.
I had endoscopies, CT scans, an MRI, stomach emptying tests, neurological exams, you name it and I probably had it.
There were numerous rabbit holes of potential illnesses. One doctor even thought I had a benign brain tumour.
Luckily, that proved to be wrong.
Along the way, I paid Dr Google a few visits too.
But it was an illness with no name.
And after all the medical tests, there were still no answers.
I've spent much of my career as a journalist writing about amazing breakthroughs in medicine.
So it was frustrating, to say the least, that in my own life, I was being told that doctors didn't have the answers and that modern medicine couldn't help me.
When the symptoms weren't getting any better, I knew my doctors were losing faith that they would ever find the cause or a useful treatment.
Some of my doctors began to suggest that my symptoms were 'stress related'.
I sat opposite one professor, a highly regarded psychiatrist, who looked over his glasses and told me 'You're sure it's not just the stress at work causing all this?"
I walked out of that appointment feeling deflated and starting to question myself.
I decided to approach my journey back to wellness the same way I approached other life challenges, "You make it happen."
That has always been my mantra. I didn't want to be a passive player in my health journey. Read below to see how I resolved my health mystery.
Here are my top tips on being an empowered patient:
* Do you have a doctor or health care professional you can work with? It's like any relationship. You need good communication, a practitioner who listens to questions and answers your concerns. Look for health experts who treat illness in an holistic way, taking into account your mind and body rather than one symptom in isolation.
* Have you done research into your symptoms and how you are feeling? Go to your appointment with a list of questions you would like answers to. Take a family member or friend to take notes so you can really take in everything the doctor or specialist says.
* Do you need a second opinion? If you feel you are not being listened to, or are being dismissed, seek a second opinion from another qualified healthcare professional. Ask for your own copies of all your test results and treatment plans so you can seek other advice.
* How necessary are the tests, treatments or procedures you are being offered? Many people will be prescribed medications and keep taking them even after the symptoms resolve. Look at websites like 'Choosing Wisely' here and here, to make sure your treatments or tests are really required.
* What are you hoping to achieve in your healthcare journey? Many of us live with chronic conditions, so getting good advice on living a full and happy life with a diagnosis is crucial. There may not be a cure but getting good support to live a fulfilled life is invaluable.
How I resolved my health crisis
I sought the help of one of the world's leading neuro-gastroenterologists.
In other words, a doctor, who specialises in how the brain and gut are linked.
Amazingly, he worked just two hours from where I live.
One of his registrars put me on a number of medications, including one for epilepsy.
It works on receptors in the brain which govern the stomach, and it made my symptoms go away.
What I became was an empowered patient: working alongside my doctors and practitioners, being involved in making decisions about my health and wellbeing.
I never gave up on wanting to find a treatment that would alleviate my symptoms, and you shouldn't either.
My journey back to good health has made me more open minded to new ideas in health and medicine.
It made me realise, as much as we would like, modern medicine doesn't always have all the answers, a topic I explore in my blog on health and wellbeing.
I'm not suggesting you should disregard the advice of healthcare professionals, but you can seek out second opinions and don't let any concerns you have be dismissed.
I vowed to be even more compassionate to the patients I interview, and whose stories I can tell, having walked a mile in their shoes.
Tell me about how you have taken control of your own health and wellbeing.
Love to hear your thoughts.
Sophie Scott is a leading medical journalist, TV presenter and the author of two books on health and wellbeing, Live a Longer Life and Roadtesting Happiness. Subscribe to her blog atwww.sophiescott.com.au <http://www.sophiescott.com.au>
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