As nurses, many of us are guilty of self diagnosing. One danger of nurses self-diagnosing is you may miss a medical disease that masquerades as a psychiatric syndrome. If you have panic disorder, you may miss the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism or an irregular heartbeat. My experience is one that proves the point. Once your doctor knows you are a nurse they generally expect that you have a good idea of what your diagnosis might be and frequently ask what you think.
Recently I had an experience where my self-diagnosing finally allowed me to get treated for a condition that has been a problem for me for years. Since in my mid-forties I have had episodes of my heart racing. There were times when my HR was over 120 bpm. When this first occurred my doctor ran all of the normal diagnostic tests to include an EKG. Except for a few PVCs it was normal. The problem was that by the time I was able to see him the episode was over. I was experiencing a lot of stress at the time and was also premenopausal. My doctor felt like I was having anxiety attacks that are expected. Treatment was anti-anxiety medication and I tried most of them. I didn’t like the way most of them made me feel. Others made me have serious side effects.
After one extremely uncomfortable episode with chest pain and racing heart, they found my cardiac enzymes were slightly elevated. The experience led to a complete cardiac work up to include a heart cauterization. Again the results were normal. The doctor changed my anxiety medication and I started therapy to help me deal with the stress. I hated being medicated. The worst thing anti-anxiety medication did was to make me numb to my feelings. Never happy but never really sad. I finally quit the medication and just tolerated the racing heart episodes.
Technology for diagnosis
I was now experiencing more episodes and became concerned that the condition was now more serious. I made an appointment with a Cardiologist to again check it out since I am now in my late 60’s. One day while watching TV I saw an advertisement for a new device to check for AFib. The price was reasonable and I decided to give it a try. I ordered it and it came in the mail very quickly.
This was amazing! It was small enough to put on the back of my cell phone. Easy to use and the results were very accurate. My appointment was a couple weeks away so I used this device to capture my EKG while waiting to see the doctor. Twice I captured AFib with a heart rate of 180. I was able to print it out and now could take it with me to the appointment.
The long and short of the visit. After going through EKG, Stress EKG, ultrasound and Holter monitor for 24 hours no sign of AFib. After using technology to self-diagnose I was able to produce for the doctor proof of my racing heart. Once he read the result I printed and brought in with me to the appointment he diagnosed my heart condition. I am now treated with a Beta Blocker and blood thinner.
Today there are many pieces of equipment that are mobile and easy to use at home. You should always be seen by a doctor if you have health concerns. The doctor may recommend you keep a record of blood pressure, blood sugar, and oxygen saturation or heart rate. There are so many medical devises out there that are portable and easy for anyone to use that keeping a record of your health concerns is easier than ever.
Traveling and self-diagnosis
As a travel nurse, I think we are more tempted to self-diagnose since we may not have a Primary Care doctor we are comfortable with. We may be surrounded by doctors and nurse practitioners but none that we know or have knowledge of their practice routines. Once you get to a work assignment make sure you find out who to see if you have health issues. Most towns now have urgent care facilities with walk-in service, get to know the best ones.
If you have health issues sure you have the tools to keep a record of symptoms. You may need to share the information with the doctor if you have to see someone new. If you have an online portal to your primary care physician you can always print out current labs and test results if needed.
Tell us what you think about self-diagnosing. Have you ever diagnosed your health issue?