Only a doctor, with their extensive medical knowledge and access to diagnostic tests, can accurately diagnose and rule out serious illnesses. Image Credit: Pixabay

Do you self-medicate? You certainly must have had paracetamol occasionally. Most of us reach for the tablet when we are feverish. You don’t need a doctor’s prescription. Paracetamol is an off-the-shelf medication like anti-inflammatory drugs, antacids and anti-histamines.

We know antacids relieve acidity, anti-histamines can manage allergies, and anti-inflammatory drugs work as painkillers. That’s all fine. What if the symptom points to a more serious illness? Only a doctor, with their extensive medical knowledge and access to diagnostic tests, can accurately diagnose and rule out serious illnesses. That’s why you should consult a doctor, especially when symptoms persist.

Some people reuse medicines prescribed by a doctor for a previous ailment. “Last time when I had the same issue, the doctor gave me this medicine. So this should work,” they say. It may work. But there’s a danger. Only a doctor can say with certainty that it’s the same ailment. What if it’s not?

When a fever is not just a fever

A persistent fever is often the result of inflammation, but it can also be due to cancer. Only doctors can make that call as they would consider other factors like sudden weight loss, night sweats, fatigue and other symptoms. They would turn to laboratory tests and CT scans for confirmation. If confirmed, they would refer the patient to an oncologist.

Even when patients turn up a doctor’s clinic, they come armed with knowledge gleaned from the internet. It’s almost like they have diagnosed the disease and have come for confirmation from the physician. That makes the doctor’s job daunting and frustrating.

One doctor gave me a simple example. “A headache can be caused by any number of issues, including a brain tumour. A person googling for the cause is more likely to expect the worst and believe that he or she has cancer, ignoring all other possibilities. In fact, they would even think that they have all the symptoms. In reality, the headache must have been caused by a nagging spouse,” he said with a mischievous grin.

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I’ve come across people who say that a particular doctor prescribes too many medicines or runs too many tests. My point is, how can you say that when you are clueless about medicine. How can you discount the prescriptions given by an expert who has spent several years studying medicines and many more practising it?

True, medical diagnosis methods have changed, and there’s a lot of emphasis on lab tests. I remember a time when doctors first checked the pulse, and pushed and prodded the stomach, asking it if there was any pain. The stethoscope check of the chest continues, but the rest these days are done in the triage, where the nurse notes the blood pressure, body temperature, blood oxygen saturation and body weight before we step into the doctor’s clinic.

What I find disconcerting is the doctor’s refusal to touch patients. Maybe that’s precipitated by COVID-19, and that practice continues. I’ve sat in clinics where the doctor peppered me with questions and wrote out requests for blood work or other tests to confirm the diagnosis. I find that strange, the antiseptic approach to diagnosis. Well, they may have their reasons.

A doctor knows best

Yes, I’m no doctor. Which is why I seek medical advice often. No, I’m no hypochondriac, running to the clinic at the slightest discomfort. If a symptom persists for more than two days, I see a doctor. Two days, I think, is adequate time for the body to repair itself. Beyond that, it needs expert intervention. That’s the advice from a doctor friend. It saved my life: my lymphoma was diagnosed very early, even though I didn’t have any of the classic symptoms.

I do self-medicate. Paracetamols, antacids and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are always in my bag. That’s for emergencies. If I have to have an anti-histamine, I call up my doctor friend to double check.

What should be borne in mind is that with advancing age, your body may not handle some medicines as well as it did in your youth. So it’s best to seek expert advice before having even anti-inflammatory medicines and PPI proton pump inhibitors) drugs for stomach acidity.

Remember, a doctor knows best.