1. Don’t put it off—make that appointment today!
Early diagnosis is crucial for the effective treatment of nerve damage, so don’t delay going to the doctor.
If you think you may be experiencing any symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, make an appointment to see your GP (general practitioner), or your diabetologist if you are diabetes – who will perform some initial tests—usually including a physical examination and blood tests—to diagnose the neuropathy and identify what’s causing it.
Your GP may also refer you to a neurologist for further tests, or to other specialists if necessary for the diagnosis and/or treatment of an underlying condition such as diabetes.
2. Describe all your symptoms
Nerve damage has a broad range of symptoms that may often be misunderstood or simply overlooked. Try to describe them to your doctor as clearly as possible. It’s also important to tell your doctor about anything unusual that you've noticed in relation to your body, your wellbeing and health—even if you aren't quite sure how to describe it. Here are a few tips to help you describe your symptoms to your doctor as clearly as possible:
Make a list of questions. Before the appointment, sit down and think of some questions you’d like to ask. For example, ‘could I benefit from taking neurotropic vitamin supplements?
Express yourself however you like. Symptoms may be different for every person, so they can be described in many different ways. Some people find it easier to use metaphors—for example, numbness is often described as being like ‘wearing an invisible glove or stocking’. Others might prefer to describe their symptoms with a lot of details. Both approaches are fine!
You don’t need to know medical terminology. Using easy and simple words to describe your symptoms is a good start. For example, tingling is a common symptom of nerve impairment, but people usually describe it as a ‘pins and needles' sensation. Describing the situation where you experienced this symptom can also be helpful.
3. Keep a diary of your symptoms
Have a pen and paper handy in the days leading up to your appointment, so you can make a note of any unusual symptoms or discomfort, like tingling, numbness, unexplained falls or clumsiness. This way you can easily provide your doctor with a history of your symptoms—take the diary with you and show it to the doctor or use it to jog your memory when talking about your condition.
Try to list all the symptoms that you feel or anything anomalous that you’ve experienced, even if you think it might not be related to nerve damage, or if you’re not even sure it’s a symptom. It can also help to list them in different categories, such as: ‘symptoms I experience all the time', ‘new/recent symptoms’, or ‘other things about my health that are worrying me'.
4. Follow your doctor’s advice
It’s important to follow your doctor’s advice carefully and keep taking any medicines as prescribed—even if you think you’re feeling better.
If your symptoms do change—especially if they seem to be getting worse—consult with your doctor before making any changes to your treatment. Don’t be tempted to self-diagnose. And of course, if you have any other questions about your condition or nerve health in general, your doctor is there to answer them for you!
5. Go back to your doctor for regular checkups
Visit your doctor regularly for checkups, to make sure you always receive the optimal treatment for your symptoms at any given time.
Keep your doctor updated about how your symptoms have changed, especially when it comes to frequently overlooked symptoms like muscle cramps. Have they improved or gotten worse? If your doctor has prescribed or recommended treatment or medication, let him or her know whether it helped or not. If necessary, your doctor can recommend a different course of treatment or adjust the dose of any medication.
6. Confide in your doctor
Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or share strange-sounding or possibly embarrassing situations. It’s always OK to ask questions—if you feel there’s something you don’t know, your doctor is the best person to provide the missing information you need.
Your conversation with your doctor is confidential, and doctors are used to dealing with people of different genders, ages, and ethnicities from all walks of life, all with different personalities, experiences, and backgrounds. In fact, sometimes an understanding of these aspects can yield useful information to help arrive at a better diagnosis. So, if you think that adding information about your daily life might be useful, don’t hold back!
Your doctor is there for you, so be truthful and collaborative, and do your best to express your concerns as clearly and openly as possible.
It might seem like there’s a lot to think about when you see your doctor about possible nerve damage symptoms, but with a little preparation—with the help of this checklist—it doesn’t have to be stressful.