Between the time devoted to insurance paperwork and large patient panels to keep up with financial pressures, most doctors have just 15 minutes to spend with each patient.
That’s not nearly enough time to address every health concern and doctors agree. In fact, 59 percent of physicians wish they had more face time with their patients, a survey by locumstory.com found.
Although your time spent in the exam room isn’t likely to get any longer, doctors say there are ways to make your appointment more productive.
1. Suffer from erectile dysfunction? Get your thyroid checked.
Studies show men with both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are more likely to also have erectile dysfunction. In fact, 79 percent of men with thyroid dysfunction also have ED, a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found.
If your energy is low, you have fatigue, constipation or notice your mood has plummeted, it could mean that you’ve had an underactive thyroid for some time, which is a common problem doctors see.
“Thyroids don’t tend to fail quickly…so the onset can be somewhat slow and prolonged,” said Dr. Kevin Gebke, a sports medicine and family physician at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, Indiana.
2. Know your family history.
“Life events matter, however small or irrelevant they may seem at the time,” said Dr. Amy Doneen, medical director for the Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention Center in Spokane, Wash., and adjunct professor for Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.
Family history can clue your doctor into your risk for conditions such as a transient ischemic attack or mini stroke, type-2 diabetes, atherosclerosis and blood clotting disorders, macular degeneration and cerebral arteriosclerosis, which can lead to dementia.
“When you start putting the pieces together, you can start to paint this picture of what people in their 40s and 50s are experiencing,” she said.
3. These two tests could prevent a heart attack.
“We don’t have to wait for someone to suffer a heart attack to know they have heart disease,” Doneen said.
Although risk factors like cholesterol and blood pressure are important, two tests—a carotid intima media thickness (CIMT) which looks for plaque and measures inflammation in the arteries and the coronary calcium scan can help identify and treat vascular disease before it becomes dangerous.
4. You might have sleep apnea and not know it.
Chronic fatigue is a symptom of sleep apnea whether you’re male or female, obese or thin, and whether your partner can hear your snore or not, Dr. Avram R. Gold, medical director of the department of medicine’s sleep disorders center at Stony Brook University in Smithtown, New York, said.
Insomnia, migraines, IBS, fibromyalgia and TMJ are all signs that you could have sleep apnea, too. The problem is that there is not a universal way to diagnose sleep apnea, so many doctors don’t recognize it, Gold said.
5. Check your blood pressure more than once a year.
Current guidelines state that a normal blood pressure is 140/90 or less for people between the ages 30 and 59 and 150/90 for those 60 and older. Yet recent research suggests that blood pressure of 120/70 should be the ideal.
“If we were to intervene earlier on blood pressure and not tolerate those levels, people would be a lot healthier,” Doneen said.
For those 75 and older with high blood pressure, a target of 120 for systolic pressure was shown to reduce rates of cardiovascular events by 33 percent and reduce the risk of death by 32 percent.
A good rule of thumb? “Know your blood pressure and check it often,” Doneen said.
6. Be good to your gut.
For people who have problems such as bloating, constipation and IBS, “they have in their minds this idea that, ‘I’ll be fixed when I can eat whatever I want,’” Dr. Lisa Guisana, a naturopath in Tustin, California, said.
Not only are gut problems often a sign of food sensitivities, eating a diet full of processed foods, fast food and overdoing it on alcohol are oftentimes what contributes to GI symptoms in the first place.
“What really needs to happen is a mind shift towards eating the foods that are actually food and that our bodies were intended to eat,” she said, adding that that includes things like eating more fruits and vegetables and avoiding foods with GMOs, pesticides and hormones.
7. Fasting blood sugar and A1C are not enough.
Nearly 30 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes and 8.1 million are undiagnosed. Insulin resistance is the leading cause of type 2 diabetes and also the most common cause of vascular inflammation and artery damage.
“What we’re finding is people are waiting until they’re diabetic to find out they’ve had this syndrome for the past 20 years,” Doneen said.
Although most doctors only check fasting blood sugar and A1C, the best way to diagnose insulin resistance is with a fasting glucose tolerance test. The test isn’t covered by insurance but it’s only $25.
“If we catch people early enough, it’s a preventable condition,” Doneen said.
8. Don’t eliminate foods from your diet.
If you have a food allergy panel, realize that it can show two different results on the same day. Some people will decide to eliminate all of the foods from their diet that are shown to be allergenic. But this is a mistake because doing so can make the microbiome— the collection of 100 trillion healthy and harmful bacteria that live in and on our bodies and are essential for our health— less robust.
“Diversifying the diet will help diversify the microbiome, which will help everything else in the body work better,” Guisana said.
Of course you should avoid foods you’ve had an allergic reaction to or those that you’ve eliminated and thus feel better.
9. Take stress seriously.
Whether it’s work, family or financial stress, everyone feels the effects. In fact, 72 percent of adults say they feel stressed about money at least some of the time, according to a report by the American Psychological Association.
Not only can stress lead to a host of chronic infections and health conditions, but the adrenal glands can eventually burn out when they can’t keep up with the demands for hormone output. And without optimal adrenal function, our bodies can’t respond to stress either, Guisana said.
10. Chronic problems take time.
If you have a chronic health condition, it’s likely that you had several underlying dysfunctions in your body before you started to have symptoms. If you have a doctor who can devote the time to finding the root cause, that’s a good first step.
Although you want to feel better right away, realize that it can take time and you may even experience what looks like a setback.
“I try to impress upon people that true healing is not always a linear process, ” Guisana said. “This didn’t happen overnight so it’s not going to reverse overnight.”
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.