Health ANY QUESTIONS? Preparing for an appointment is important if you want to get the best outcome so what can you expect? Words: Phil Lattimore A s medical appointments are slowly getting back to normal, your visit to a healthcare professional whether that be a GP, musculoskeletal specialist or consultant could be your first in a long while. As such, your condition may have changed considerably since you last saw someone or were referred by your doctor. Communicating effectively with your healthcare professional is vital so that they can better understand what you are experiencing, note changes in your condition, and keep track of its progress. The more information they can glean from you, the more responsive they can be. A visit, however, often brings up questions that we may find a bit tricky to answer, when put on the spot and, equally importantly, we may not end up asking the important questions we probably should. So how can you prepare for this? Here we list some of the likely questions youll be asked by your healthcare professional, and give tips on providing useful, accurate answers. Your specialist might ask: Dont feel you cant question your medication, or talk about alternative treatments Where is the pain? The doctor will want to know the exact location of the pain, so try to describe precisely the areas of your body where you feel pain: is it affecting particular joints or does it spread elsewhere? Is it on both sides of the body or on one side? Make it clear if some areas are better or worse than others, if the pain is intermittent or constant, and whether its intensity varies. Also, if pain is travelling to other parts of your body, try to describe the paths. What does the pain feel like? It is often difficult to articulate how pain feels, but try to consider the sensations you are feeling. These could include terms such as throbbing, dull, aching, burning, shooting, grinding, hot, sharp, or grating. Use more personal descriptions if you like, such as like needles in my wrists or like my knees are burning from the inside out. Try to be as accurate as possible. How long have you had the pain? Osteoarthritis can develop slowly over the years, so identifying its progress can help the doctor judge where you might be in terms of its duration and severity, and its progress. It will also help the doctor diagnose the type of condition and treatment required sudden flare ups of pain, for example, can indicate an inflammatory condition. Think back to when you first noticed the pain and its location and, if it has spread, when and how it has developed. What makes the pain worse/better? Understanding what aggravates or alleviates the pain can help with your diagnosis. Does increased activity cause more pain, or is it worse after long periods of inactivity? Does it appear to get worse after particular foods or drink, for example, dairy or alcohol? Does rest help? Is it worse at different times of the day? Does the weather have any effect? When pain intensifies or recedes, note which activities you did or what you consumed before. Has the joint ever been injured? Certain injuries to joints can lead to post-traumatic arthritis, but treatments can ease and even reverse symptoms. The progression of arthritis isnt always in one direction. Are you taking any medication? This is a key question. Make a note of any medication you are using long-term or short-term not only for your pain, but also for any other conditions. Note how much you take and how long youve been taking it for. Certain types of medication, such as steroids, may have effects on your bones or joints that could be linked to arthritis pain. You might want to ask: What stage is my condition at? Your doctor should be able to provide an overview of your condition (not all arthritis is the same), and what outcomes are possible. Having arthritis doesnt necessarily set you on a fixed path, so understanding clearly what your condition is, what has happened to your joints, what you can expect to happen with or without treatment and, crucially, what you can do about it yourself are important for you in managing your condition. What are my medication options? Painkillers are just part of the picture. A number of treatments for different types of arthritis are available, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include ibuprofen and naproxen sodium; creams and ointments; steroids, such as corticosteroid medications that reduce inflammation; and diseasemodifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which can slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Your specialist may adjust your medication if you feel it is not working, or is not as effective as it could be. Discussing this is essential dont feel you cant question it, or talk about alternative treatments. What can I do to help myself? While medication can help with your condition, your specialist can suggest actions you can take such as exercises, dietary advice or weight-loss plans. They can also direct you to support groups or courses offering specialist advice.