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5 Reasons Why Patients Don’t Mention Symptoms To Their Doctors

To com­plain or “be good” is an appar­ent dilemma for some patients with seri­ous illness.

Yes­ter­day I received an email from a close friend with advanced breast can­cer. She’s got a lot of symp­toms: Her fatigue is so over­whelm­ing she can’t do more than one activ­ity each day. Yes­ter­day, for exam­ple, she stayed home all day and did noth­ing because she was sup­posed to watch a hockey game in the evening with her teenage son and other fam­ily mem­bers. Her voice is weak, so much it’s hard to talk on the phone. She has dif­fi­culty writ­ing, in the man­ual sense — mean­ing she can’t quite use her right arm and hand properly.

“It’s some­thing I would never men­tion to the doc­tor because it is very sub­tle,” she wrote. “But it has not improved and if any­thing has wors­ened over time.”

There are more than a few pos­si­ble med­ical expla­na­tions for why a per­son who’s receiv­ing breast can­cer ther­apy might not be able to use her right arm. But that’s not the point of today’s les­son. What’s note­wor­thy here is that the patient — an edu­cated, thought­ful woman who’s in what should be the mid­dle of her life and is try­ing as best she can to sur­vive — doesn’t think these symp­toms are worth mentioning. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

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