Be Your Own Health Advocate

I like doctors, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare providers. I respect their opinions. However, I think people generally give healthcare providers too much power over their lives. People shop around for and get second opinions from accountants, child care providers, car mechanics, and real estate agents. But when it comes to their health care? Many people don’t give a second thought to lab tests, prescriptions, results, and recommendations from their healthcare providers.

Sure they’ve gone to school for many years, completed specialized training, and may have years of experience treating patients, but they’re still just making an educated guess when it comes to your health. Many healthcare providers don’t have much free time to catch up on the latest research and practices in medicine (unless you count pharmaceutical sponsored lunches…). Those who take insurance barely even have time to meet with patients for more than 15-20 minutes. It’s hard to solve anyone’s problems in 15-20 minutes. Often, prescriptions to cover up symptoms are a lot easier and quicker to write than digging and finding the root of the problem.

YOU are in charge of your health. You know your body better than a doctor does! Never forget it.

I’ve long been frustrated with the medical system. Even more so now that I work in it! I constantly see patients who are on statins for no reason. There is a lot more to a lipid panel than just total cholesterol and LDL! What’s the HDL? What’s the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL? What’s the ratio of triglycerides to HDL? What’s the cholesterol particle size? Has the patient tried changing his/her diet? All these things need to be addressed before a statin is prescribed. Especially as more and more research comes out that statins may be bad for health in the long term. Plus, simply lowering the numbers on your cholesterol tests doesn’t necessarily translate into reduced risk of a heart attack.

*NOTE: I am not a doctor and do not recommend you go off your statin. I tell my patients to talk with their doctor about their need for a statin.

A recent personal medical frustration inspired me to write this post. My husband had been feeling very fatigued all summer and started getting dizzy spells. I sent him to an “integrative” doctor who I thought would be able to take a closer look at his lab results than the average doctor. Seven tubes of blood were drawn and two weeks later we received a phone call from the office that everything looked fine. Suspicious, I called and asked them to send me the full lab report. It didn’t even need that much research on my part. There on the front page, I saw his serum vitamin B12 results. While technically he fell in the borderline normal range, there was a big star and note that said: between 5 and 10% of patients with values between 200 and 400 may experience low serum B12 symptoms like FATIGUE and DIZZINESS. Karl was at 222.

Good grief! I know doctors are busy, but this just seemed like a HUGE oversight and I was mad. I talked to a naturopath at work who recommended a certain Vitamin B supplement and Karl is now feeling great. Granted, I’m still trying to figure out WHY his B12 was low in the first place. My guess is – wait for it – impaired gut function : ) You knew that was coming, right? We had a very stressful summer and Karl was on a round of antibiotics in late spring, both of which could affect gut function and nutrient absorption. Plus, unless I’m cooking for him regularly, Karl is perfectly content eating a bag of Doritos for a meal. I’ve been working to get more quality protein in his breakfast and lunch.

Like I said in the beginning, I respect my healthcare providers, but I am not a passive patient. I always:

  • Always double check lab reports. Normal ranges change frequently as science advances.
  • Get a second opinion.
  • Ask the doctor questions. I’m like the annoying toddler: “But why?” If they don’t like that, I find a new doctor. You’re paying them for a service remember?
  • Read! We live in an age where there is a plethora of information online and books on every health condition. I research the heck out of a health condition until wellness is achieved. Remember, a symptom is your body trying to tell you something is wrong!

Don’t settle for anything less than optimal health. Your health, and your family’s health, should be a top priority in your life. Don’t put it completely in the hands of someone else!

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