Having your body betray you is among life’s most stressful experiences. Medicine is not an exact science, and finding a diagnosis can take time — and more money than many can afford.
The problem compounds if you’re a woman. Despite strides toward equality, bias toward female pain continues, causing unnecessary suffering by delaying appropriate treatment. Sometimes, this hesitation can be deadly.
What should you do if you know something’s wrong but can’t find an answer? Here’s your 5-step guide to what to do if you’re experiencing unexplained pain.
We live in a technological age. Your first instinct upon developing symptoms might be to hop on Dr. Google and see what you can find — please resist the urge. Research is a valuable tool, but reading about the various possibilities can lead you down a rabbit hole of panic that causes you to misinterpret what’s happening and creates unnecessary stress.
Instead, get mindful. Create a safe space like a journal where you list your symptoms. Often, this exercise can provide valuable clues, but if nothing else, you have a handy checklist to hand to your physician — helpful if you tend to forget things when stressed. For example, you might list the following:
- Painful, irregular periods
- Unusually heavy menstrual flow
- Pain during intercourse
- Lingering pelvic floor pain
- Gastrointestinal upset
Such symptoms could point your doctor toward an endometriosis diagnosis or at least lead them to order the correct diagnostic tests. Congratulations — you might not realize what a huge step you just took to help yourself. It takes an average of eight years for many women to get such an answer, even though this common condition strikes one out of every ten. You’ve got a huge jump on the game.
Once you’ve mindfully explored your symptoms, it’s time to call your physician. Your primary care provider is your first point of contact. From there, they’ll send you to the requisite specialists if necessary.
Unfortunately, financial realities can make seeing a doctor difficult, especially if you have to choose between a visit and paying other bills, like rent. Over 40% of Americans report not seeing a doctor even when they have symptoms because of economic hardship. What can you do? You have a few options:
- Check the exchange: If you recently had a life-changing event like a job shift, you might be eligible for insurance coverage through Healthcare.gov.
- Apply for Medicaid: Go to Benefits.gov and see if you qualify for free care.
- Consider going overseas: Those who live near the border can often find services for far less than stateside.
Fortunately, you can ease many disease symptoms through lifestyle changes, including hormonal disorders like PCOS. It might not be a cure — but it helps.
Your first step? Widespread, systemic inflammation is a hallmark of nearly every disorder, and reducing or eliminating the foods that spur it can help. Eat these foods with caution:
- Sugar: Watch for added sugars on food labels — they can lurk in insidious places, like spaghetti sauce.
- Bleached, processed flour
- Unhealthy fats: Pay attention to your omega-3 to omega-6 balance. Many Americans consume too much omega-6 from various vegetable oils, spurring systemic inflammation. Balance your consumption with high omega-3 foods like fish and flax seeds.
- Alcohol: Alcohol breaks down into several nasty substances in your body that increase inflammation.
If your issues affect your reproductive system, consider adding more seeds to your diet. These foods contain lignans, phytoestrogens that help balance female hormones. You might even try an Ayurvedic remedy called seed cycling to see if it helps your menstrual symptoms.
Can stress result in poor physical health? Absolutely. When you experience ceaseless pressure, your HPA axis stays activated, pumping hormones like cortisol at unusual levels and spurring oxidative stress that damages your body’s cells.
“Well, that’s magical,” you think, “I can’t exactly quit my job unless I want to be homeless, which I’m pretty sure is equally stressful.” While you can’t control every source of your stress, you can manage it more effectively. How? Here’s what to do:
- Get regular, mild exercise: Going hard or going home can spike cortisol — the opposite of what you want. Thirty minutes a day of gentle movement like yoga or walking dissipates stress hormones naturally, and you can break your workout up into 10-minute chunks when you’re busy.
- Start a daily meditation practice: If you’ve never laid back with headphones, closed your eyes and lost yourself in yoga nidra, you don’t know what you are missing. It’s infinitely relaxing. However, you don’t need a full 30-minute block to meditate. Five or ten minutes are effective at the beginning and end of each day.
- Take daily mindfulness breaks: Many of today’s gadgets have mindfulness apps. If yours does not, set a timer. Once an hour, take a 2-minute break for deep breathing, mindfully eating a square of chocolate or playing with a coloring app on your phone.
What if you’ve done all you can, and your symptoms don’t disappear? Remember, “nevertheless, she persisted?” That’s what you must do.
Dealing with the medical system is tough. Be polite but insistent. If one doctor dismisses your legitimate symptoms, request a second opinion. Thanks to technology, you can find providers online that accept your insurance — call around until you find a supportive physician you adore.
Bring a partner or friend to appointments to be a backup advocate. You deserve quality care — but you might have to assert yourself to get it.
It’s unfair that women often have to fight for quality health care. However, you can better navigate the maze when you know what you face.
Follow this guide if you’re experiencing unexplained pain. A combination of holistic remedies and quality professional care should result in relief.
*This is a collaborative post. For further information please refer to my disclosure page.
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