Sunday 20 October 2019

Dear Dr Nina: Regular discomfort in my ribs comes on suddenly and I fear it could be something serious

Detail the pain when it appears
Detail the pain when it appears

Nina Byrnes

Question: I regularly get a sharp pain in my ribs on the right hand side. It is sudden and startling and feels very serious. It disappears quickly. It is not digestion related or anything like that. Could it be something serious?

Dr Nina replies: Pain in or around the ribs can be due to any number of causes. You would really need to have a conversation with your doctor to try to narrow down the possible source. When preparing for a doctor appointment it may be helpful to have thought in detail about the symptoms you have.

How severe is the pain? Have an idea on a scale of 1 to 10. How long does it last and does it stop suddenly or just fade away? Other symptoms associated with the pain such as nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath or altered bowel movements are worth noting.

Is the pain made better or worse by eating, moving, sitting or lying down? Does it hurt if you stretch, move or touch your ribs. Does the pain radiate anywhere or is it local to one area? Lastly, things such as weight loss or gain or changes in the colour or consistency of your urine or bowel motions can be relevant.

Write down the answers to some of these questions before your doctor visit. When you book your doctor appointment consider the amount of time you have. Most appointments are 10 to 15 minutes long. Dealing with just one issue makes a thorough assessment easier.

If you have a list important issues may get lost so ideally one problem per consultation is best.

It is likely that your doctor will have to examine you or, if you need blood tests or injections, you will need to expose your arm. Wearing something that is easy to remove or roll up will make things run more smoothly.

Don't pass urine just before you attend the doctor. It is likely a urine sample will be needed. Bring one with you or ask for a jar and go to the toilet before you take a seat in the waiting room. Be realistic in your expectations.

It may not be possible to sort the issue completely in one appointment.

If your doctor suggests booking further appointments it's because they want to give the appropriate consideration and time to the problem at hand. This is a good thing!

Make sure you have enough time. Although as doctors we do try to keep to time, consults can take longer and leave us running behind. Believe me this is as frustrating for us as it is for you but we do like to give everyone the time they need. Make sure you aren't due to be somewhere 10 minutes after your appointment.

You or the person before you may have a more complicated problem that requires more time. The pain you describe could be neurological, muscular, bone, heart, kidney, stomach or heart related. Give your doctor the time and detail they need and your diagnosis won't be far behind.

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