New symptoms appear from time to time when you live with a chronic illness. They are never fun, whether you wake up with them staring you in the face or they develop gradually over time. Personally, experiencing a symptom I’m not familiar with can make me a bit stressed – sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s a ‘wait and see how it develops’ or a ‘get me to A&E right now I might be dying’ situation!
Recently I’ve noticed some new niggles. Nothing that seems very serious on the face of it, but when you already have an burgeoning collection of autoimmune conditions, any slight weirdness can be a bit alarming. Is this a new condition, or related to something I already have? New symptoms can also signify that your illness is progressing or getting more complicated, and that can cause a fair amount of anxiety.
Rather than silently worrying about what it might mean, it can be helpful to take some time to think about what’s going on and decide what action to take. Talking to your doctor is a must, but it’s important to put the symptom in perspective and prevent it colonising your brain with worry.
Here are some questions I find helpful in keeping anxiety at bay when I experience a new symptom. Just to note, you should always seek professional medical advice for symptoms and concerns, this blog post is just to share some ideas that help me.
- Is the symptom affecting your ability to function? If yes, get thee to a doctor as soon as you can. Can you walk, dress, drive? I’ve had really painful toes for about a month. I haven’t bothered to go to the GP to see if they can help because it’s “probably just RA.” My six year-old pointed out how ridiculous I’m being as I hobbled to school this week: “You should really go to the doctor mum, it’s silly not to!” A helpful perspective!
- Are there any symptoms you’ve been told to watch out for? Check back over medication leaflets and advice you’ve been given by healthcare professionals. If you’ve been told, “Go straight to A&E if…” take that advice seriously and just do it!
- Stop worrying about being seen as a hypochondriac. I sometimes worry that doctors will think I’m wasting their time with something that’s not that serious. This is not a valid worry – that’s what they are there for!
- What is your instinct saying? When I first had bad RA symptoms six years ago, I knew something was very wrong. I had to push hard to get doctors to take me seriously. I kept persisting partly because I couldn’t function properly, but partly because I just knew there was something very wrong.
- Could it be ‘normal’ illness? My default is to assume every ailment is associated with RA, diabetes or coeliac, but like everyone else, I sometimes catch everyday bugs. It helps to think through whether people around me have been sick or whether I may have eaten something dodgy. Of course, chronic illness complicates even things like having a cold, so you may need to see a doctor or take extra care of yourself. But realising it’s just something ‘going round’ can take some of the fear out of feeling rotten.
- Is it really a new symptom? I sometimes forget I’ve had a symptom before. I had horrible tinnitus a couple of weeks ago and it took me a while to click that I had experienced it before, and that it was caused by something specific. It didn’t make it go away, but I did feel reassured that it got better before (and it has done this time as well).
- Do you have a consultant appointment coming up? If so, this is a good opportunity to discuss it with someone knowledgeable. I write down a list of questions to make sure I don’t miss the opportunity to ask about it. Even if the symptom passes before you see the doctor, it’s still worth mentioning it. If you’re not seeing the consultant for a while, can you bring the appointment forward? Is there a helpline you can call?
- Say NO to late night Dr Google visits. While sometimes a bit of research can be helpful, stick to reputable sites like the NHS website and please don’t trawl through forums of people telling you awful stories. Especially when you’re getting ready to (try and) sleep. It’s never helpful (speaks the voice of experience).
- Talk about it with someone you trust. They may not be a medical person, but just having someone else know your concerns can help dissipate worry and stop it circling in your head.
I’d love to hear any other tips on dealing with new symptoms.
If in doubt, always get yourself to your GP. Time to book an appointment about that dodgy foot…