Mon | Oct 22, 2018

Are you suffering from ‘what if?’

Published:Wednesday | April 6, 2016 | 12:00 AM

"Doc, what's causing me to have this pain? Do you think we should do an MRI? What if it is my kidneys?"

More and more my patients have become caught up in diagnosing their conditions and bringing their thoughts to the table.

Generally, patients do ask questions but I find a growing trend of 'what if' questions coming at me over the years. The 'what if' approach is part and

parcel of a doctor's thinking.

From the time Ms Jones enters my office and is walking with a limp I start looking and thinking, "what could this be?" The more she tells me about her symptoms, the more I start narrowing down the possibilities.

After examining her and making a diagnosis, I still throw around a few 'what ifs' in my mind but I can put all of this in context against my training and experience.




When I tell Ms Jones that she has "gluteal bursitis", she goes home and talks to her family and friends about it and then Googles it. She calls me the next day asking "Doctor what if it is ....?"

Ms Jones has found three other conditions online and is now asking if it could be those, including the 'big C', because her friend had a friend who had something like this and spoke to her about it. It's too much to go through on the phone so I ask her to come in for treatment.

She is now having an attack of 'what-if'.




The 'what-ifs' have grown to near epidemic level. The Internet, with its large volume of information, feeds your curiosity but it is not the best place to find out what's wrong with you.

Dr Guido Zuccon, a researcher at Queensland University of Technology, looking at how persons use '

Dr Google' to self-diagnose, notes that "because on average only three of the first 10 results were highly useful,

people either keep searching or they get the wrong advice which can be potentially harmful for someone's health".

They often end up calling me or coming back to my office with the 'what ifs'.




As you get into your 50s and beyond and you see and feel more changes with your body, you may just need some help to treat those 'what-ifs'.

Here are my suggestions:

- Visit a physician whom you trust and have a check-up and an open and frank discussion. That trust factor is key.

- Do what needs to be done and follow up on the doctor's advice. Take action and follow up.

- Think logically and give your worried thoughts full attention for five minutes then get on with your daily activities.

- Try working on how you think and tend to see life. Prayer, meditation and counseling can be of great help.

Managing your 'what-ifs' in a positive manner is a big part of living longer and living better beyond your 50s.

- Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston; email: