Medical Mysteries, Solved
Board Certified Internist and Entrepreneur in Residence Dr. Nancy Simpkins clears things up.
From Nancy: People always wonder about the mysteries of medicine. What “secrets” do doctors have that might benefit others?
Tests and Symptoms
First of all, the biggest secret to reveal is that the body is not a perfect machine. There are parts that need to be replaced, levels that need to be adjusted and tests that need to be performed. Think of your body as an expensive racecar. Wouldn’t you take your prized car in for tune-ups, oil changes and new tires? Here’s why doctors perform the tests they do—and what the results mean.
Whenever you set foot into a medical facility, the first thing the doctor or nurse does is weigh you and take your blood pressure. Although people think we weigh patients to shame them for being overweight, that’s a myth. Large weight gains or weight losses can be due to medical conditions (thyroid disease, liver disease, kidney disease or cancer).
Blood pressure is just a number that doctors write down in their charts, right? Wrong. Blood pressure is an indication of how hard your heart is working and if there is danger of an impending stroke. So the secret revealed here is that those two little numbers open up a window into the entire workings of the body.
What about the routine blood tests that your doctor does each year? These small tubes of blood again reveal all about how your body is functioning. We can gather valuable information about your kidneys, liver, heart and bone marrow. So doctors can learn what you look like on the inside simply using a needle.
There are certain diseases that run in families and have a genetic basis, such as premature cardiac death. So, if you have a parent who died suddenly at the age of 40, your doctor wants to know and will aggressively keep track of your cholesterol, blood pressure and EKG (electrocardiogram). Certain cancers, such as uterine, ovarian and breast cancers, also run in families. Doctors can alter your screening patterns based on your personal family history.
What exactly is your doctor listening to when he or she places the stethoscope to your chest? Your heart sounds are very important as they can alert your doctor if there is something wrong with your heart (i.e. mitral valve disease, which makes a loud click when a doctor listens). Knowing about your heart and what is normal for you allows you to prevent long-term heart disease. Many exams in my office have revealed a serious disease—just by my attentive listening. For example, I had a young patient who came in because he was feeling tired and, upon listening to his heart, I noticed an exceedingly slow heart rate. This led to a diagnosis of central cardiac Lyme disease, which we treated with a temporary pacemaker and life-saving antibiotics.
What about the secret of “doctor language?” Most patients think that doctors speak a certain way purposely so that patients cannot understand. However, as we train, we learn technical names for diseases and tests. We use those terms in professional settings to get our point across clearly and swiftly to each other. If you, as the patient, get caught in the doctor language cross-fire, stop your doctor and say, “Hold it. Tell me in simple terms please.”
Choosing a Provider
One last medical secret is how to choose a primary care doctor or a specialist. What is it that you should look for? Most importantly, you need to choose a board certified doctor in his or her respective field. This indicates higher training and recognition by professional organizations, which require board exams. It is always best to ask your doctor for referrals to specialists. We know what’s important, and it’s not always personality, availability or insurance. So, if you need a referral or even a second opinion for a medical problem, ask a doctor you trust for their “insider” recommendation. So what is the mystery surrounding medicine? The human body has a lot of hidden secrets and our jobs as doctors is to unlock them and solve the problems as they arise. Rely on your doctor to help you navigate the uncharted and rough seas. For more from Dr. Nancy Simpkins, read her recent columns on the site or visit her online.