Do You Trust Your Gut Feeling or Your Doctor?

You just shared a very important health concern with your doctor and she or he dismisses by either ignoring it or telling you that your concerns are irrelevant.  But deep down inside, you know something is wrong. You have a gut feeling that is telling you, you can’t ignore it. So what do you do?   Your decision to listen to your gut or to your doctor could be the difference between life and death. What do you do?

During a recent follow-up consultation call with one of my clients, last week, she shared with me a conversation she had with her new cardiologist.  She is taking a beta-blocker, for her blood pressure, and heart disease.  As soon as she began taking the medication a few months ago, she began experiencing severe fatigue.

Her previous internist informed her of the side effects, but due to a change in her health plan, she no longer has access to him. Her new cardiologist told her that she needed a sleep apnea study, not a change in medication.

An Empowered Patient Refuses to Accept Her Doctor’s Assessment

My client, Ruth (not her name) I have watched what happens when someone doesn’t listen to his or her body.  Pam, one  of my sister’s dearest childhood friends shortly after giving birth to her second child began to experience severe lower abdominal pain.  She made three visits to the emergency room.  Each time she was told she was experiencing normal post-partum discomfort, despite the fact that her pain was worsening. Despite the fact that she knew something was wrong, she went home with the pain medication that did nothing to relieve her pain.

Tragically, the pain continued to escalate.  Then something catastrophic happened. Her appendix ruptured, and caused an overwhelming blood infection, that did not respond to antibiotics and intensive medical care.  Despite their best efforts, my dear friend died, leaving behind a newborn and two year old child.

My Uncle Listened to His Doctor-to His Detriment

Over 20 years ago, my dear Uncle Wesley, a few weeks after his bypass surgery, began to experience pain on the left side of his chest.  His doctors told him it was just postoperative pain. He insisted it was not his heart or the surgery, it was something different.  His pain, like Pam’s continued, and he returned several times over the next 6 months, only to receive the same dismissal of his symptoms.  Finally, his physician ordered a CAT scan, to discover my uncle had a large mass and several smaller tumors in his lungs.   It was too late to stop the cancer from spreading, and a few months later, my uncle succumbed to the cancer.

A Friend Learns a Valuable, Life Saving Lesson

A few years after Pam’s tragic death, a friend of hers, Rachel, developed unusual and severe abdominal pain. Despite 2 visits to the emergency room, the pain did not improve, and the doctors Pam suddenly began to experience severe abdominal pain.  The ER docs on during both visits told her she had gastroenteritis, and she would be fine taking over the counter medications.

Rachel knew something was wrong, and during her third visit to the ER, she refused to accept the diagnosis, and insisted on being hospitalized.  She told them something was terribly wrong, as Pam’s tragic memory remained at the forefront of her mind.  Despite the doctor’s misgivings, he did admit her that evening.  The next morning, a surgeon evaluated her, and determined she needed to have emergency surgery, due to an obstruction in her colon (large intestine).

Had Rachel not listened, she could’ve easily experienced a fatal catastrophic event at home, like her friend Pam. She told me, “I knew something was very wrong.  And every time the doctor attempted to reassure me, Pam popped into my mind.  It’s because of her, I’m alive today.”

Listen and Pay Attention To Your Body

Please know that I’m not accusing the vast majority of doctors of ignoring their patients.  The vast majority of physicians I know personally treat their patients with loving care.

Bottom line, I urge you to pay attention and trust your gut feelings about your body.  It could be the difference between living and leaving this world.  Your health is  just that serious!

The advice, I’ve given to my patients, since I began practicing medicine has remained the same.   I’ve shared with my patients, my respect for their body’s wisdom and intelligence. I have happily and sincerely told my patients if they don’t like my opinion, to get a second, third, fourth, or even fifth opinion. I am not offended by their quest.  Our as physicians, we are here to help you.  You know your body better than any doctor or lab result.  And if you find a doctor won’t listen or is offended by your insistence that something is wrong with your body—you need, as Ruth realized, another doctor.   You need an advocate that listens, that is your partner, not an authoritarian.

Listen to Your Body!

Many years ago, I heard Deepak Chopra, MD say, “The gut has not evolved to the level of self-deception.”  I couldn’t have said it better! Trusting your gut feelings is a critical.  While we may not to be able to fully explain “gut feelings” from a scientific perspective, we know from personal experience, and even a few revealing studies, that the body’s intelligence has the capacity to provide vital, life saving information.

Listening to your body’s subtle signals is a critical part of exercising your intuitive sense, says Judith Orloff, MD an intuitive psychiatrist, and author, who also trains medical students and psychiatric residents at UCLA to use intuition when treating patients. She says, “Intuition allows you to get the first warning signs when anything is off in your body so that you can address it. If you have a gut feeling about your body — that something is toxic, weak or off — listen to it.”

According to Judith Orloff, MD, “Your body is a powerful intuitive communicator,” she shares in her book Second Sight. “Intuition allows you to get the first warning signs when anything is off in your body so that you can address it. If you have a gut feeling about your body — that something is toxic, weak or ‘off’ — listen to it. Go and get it worked up.” She’s seen too many people ignore their sense that something isn’t right with their bodies, and subsequently find that small problems have become big ones.

How Intuitive Are You?

Here’s a simple quiz that can help you to better understand your intuitive abilities.

  1. When I don’t have a ready answer, I tend to be
    A. patient.
    B. uneasy.
  2. In challenging situations, I am highly motivated and deeply committed
    A. most of the time.
    B. infrequently.
  3. When working on a difficult problem, I tend to
    A. concentrate on finding the solution.
    B. play around with possibilities.
  4. When I disagree with others, I tend to
    A. let them know about it.
    B. keep the disagreement to myself.
  5. When working on a problem, I change strategies
    A. seldom.
    B. often.
  6. I prefer to be told
    A. exactly how to do things.
    B. only what needs to be done.
  7. When things get very complicated, I
    A. become exhilarated.
    B. become insecure.
  8. In most cases
    A. change makes me nervous.
    B. I welcome unexpected changes.
  9. My reading consists of
    A. a variety of subjects, including fiction.
    B. factual material mainly related to my work.
  10. When my opinion differs from the experts, I usually
    A. stick to my beliefs.
    B. defer to authority.
  11. When faced with a number of tasks, I
    A. tackle them simultaneously.
    B. finish one before going on to another.
  12. When learning something new, I
    A. master the rules and procedures first.
    B. get started and learn the rules as I go along.
  13. Unpredictable people are
    A. annoying.
    B. interesting.
  14. At school I was (am) better at
    A. essay questions.
    B. short-answer questions.
  15. When I make a mistake, I tend to
    A. second-guess myself.
    B. forget it and go on.
  16. When offering a description or explanation, I am more likely to rely on
    A. analogy and anecdote.
    B. facts and figures.
  17. I can usually be convinced by
    A. an appeal to reason.
    B. an appeal to my emotions.
  18. When I am wrong, I
    A. readily admit it.
    B. defend myself.
  19. When faced with a difficult problem, I am likely to
    A. ask for advice.
    B. tackle it myself.
  20. At work I prefer to
    A. follow a prearranged schedule.
    B. make my own schedule.
  21. When setting an appointment for the following week, I am likely to say
    A. “Let’s set an exact time now.”
    B. “Call me the day before.”
  22. I am best known as
    A. an idea person.
    B. a detail person.

Give yourself 1 point if you answered “A” on the following items: 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 14, 16, 18, and 22.

Give yourself 1 point if you answered “B” on the following items: 3, 5, 6, 8, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, and 21.

If your total score is 16 or above, you tend strongly toward an intuitive approach to decisions and problems. It’s more than likely you trust your intuition.

If your total is between 10 and 15, you tend to vary in style but are more intuitive than analytic or systematic.

If your total is between 5 and 9, you tend to mix styles but lean more toward the analytic and rational than the intuitive. Your intuition might be erratic.

If your total is below 5, you lean heavily toward a systematic rational approach to problems and decisions. Chances are you do not trust your intuition very much, perhaps because of past experiences when it has been wrong.

Adapted from The Intuitive Edge by Philip Goldberg, PhD

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