When we go to the doctor we want to be reassured that the problem we have brought forward is fixable. We want to make a plan, stick to it, and come out healthier. But this is not always the case. Sometimes, the journey to getting the correct diagnosis and treatment is long and convoluted. Sometimes, the symptoms we describe can mean any number of things – or nothing at all.
Some might be reassured when they are told that nothing is wrong by a doctor. This is because there would be nothing to worry about, right? At times, we might still feel like there is something – maybe due to pain or fatigue or something else. Thus, such reassurances can make us feel hopeless/condescended. If it happens often enough, you might feel discouraged from going to the doctor again – and this can have negative consequences if there is something wrong. Over a third of people avoided going to doctor visits that they deemed necessary in a survey conducted in the US, which has a huge effect on the overall health of the national population (Kannan & Veazie, 2014).
But if “nothing is wrong” – why should you go to the doctor?
1. Your doctor has their own biases
Doctors are people too and they all come with their biases, some of which they might not even be aware of. Else, they might believe them as being backed up by scientific evidence. This can manifest in all sorts of ways. For example, there is a long-standing belief that people with darker skin don’t have to worry about skin damage from the sun. There is some truth to this – melanin can protect from UV rays, thus making it less likely that someone with dark skin will get a sunburn or develop skin cancer, but there is a possibility (Gupta, et al., 2016).
Thus, these beliefs can help you be aware of what your doctor might be thinking and can help you strategies when it comes to making sure that your concerns are heard. Bias in medicine is a serious problem that takes many lives and livelihoods but there are ways that you can prepare yourself to make sure that you receive the care that you deserve.
2. A second (or third) opinion can’t hurt
You may have heard stories of people’s illnesses going undiagnosed for years because the family doctor said everything was normal. You may worry that by going to another, you would be betraying your own. However, these concerns should not be the priority when regarding your health. Rather, seeking a second opinion has several benefits. It provides more knowledge about your condition and gives new perspectives on treatment options. It can even help you make decisions that you may have been unsure of (Team, 2022). This also allows you to ask more questions. Important things to ask are “What else might this be?” or “What should I do if this gets worse?”. Be sure to provide context for your symptoms as well – when they occur, on what part of your body, and how severe is it? This information is important for your doctor to understand how the issue is affecting you daily.
3. Maybe it is all in your head – and that’s okay
This is not an easy thing to consider. However, sometimes there isn’t a diagnosis or treatment that will make everything better. There can be many reasons as to why that is: maybe you’ve received a diagnosis that means you will never be 100% better. Else it might be your mind which is sick, and not the body. Mental illness can sometimes be even scarier to consider than a physical ailment, but there are still plenty of options for treatment from a mental health professional. Many symptoms that can be concerning – like fatigue, loss of appetite, or a racing heart – could be indicative of depression or anxiety. Sometimes the mental and the physical confound each other. For example, stress makes physical symptoms worse, else the physical symptoms might affect your mental health.
This is why it’s important to look at all areas of your health when considering what might be wrong – because even if it is not a physical problem, you still deserve to receive quality care and respect.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach
Genevieve Wight is an intern and volunteer at Willingness. She is currently completing
her Masters in Health and Medical Psychology at Leiden University.
Gupta, A. K., Bharadwaj, M., & Mehrotra, R. (2016). Skin Cancer Concerns in People of
Color: Risk Factors and Prevention. Asian Pacific journal of cancer prevention :
APJCP, 17(12), 5257–5264. https://doi.org/10.22034/APJCP.2016.17.12.5257
Kannan, V. D., & Veazie, P. J. (2014). Predictors of avoiding medical care and reasons for
avoidance behavior. Medical Care, 52(4), 336–345. https://doi.org/10.1097/
Team, F. H. (2022, April 7). Why you should consider a second medical opinion.
Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/