Can I put my worries aside for Christmas?
December 13, 2011 10:19 AM   Subscribe

How can I put off worrying about my health enough to enjoy the holidays? Also, what should I ask my second-opinion doctor? (A couple icky details inside)

A few weeks ago, driving home from work, I experienced cramps so severe in my lower abdomen that I had to pull over. They would come and go over the next few weeks, always causing me to double over in pain. I finally decided to go see the doctor when I noticed blood and mucus in my stool a few days ago.

Doctor at walk in clinic was clearly worried but very uncommunicative. Touched my belly a few times, asked me about family histories of Crohn's (there is none, although there is a history of colon cancer) and ordered a cat scan, no other tests. I was clearly terrified, so much so that I didn't bother to ask him any questions about what he was thinking it could be. He also prescribed a painkiller for the cramps (Lomotil) and an antibiotic (Supmax 400) without explaining either. I guess one of my questions is whether I should take either of these medications. I mean, I don't like taking antibiotics without a valid reason to do so, and the doctor ran no tests to find out if I had a bacterial infection.

I went home and asked google all of my questions, and now am terrified (crying for the past two hours terrified) of the possibility that I have colon cancer. My symptoms match it exactly, over IBS, colitis, Crohn's, etc. And I'm not too young (female, 27) to get it. My family has a very intense history of cancer.

So my cat scan is for January tenth. I'm going away over the holidays, to a place full of friends and family that I've been yearning for (I'm really lonely and isolated where I'm living now) and I just want to be able to enjoy it. I mean, sure, I might have cancer, but is worrying about it going to help? I can't do anything until my scan on January tenth, so I'd like to be able to forget about it somehow? I just don't know how. Whenever I think about the possibility now I well up and cry and can't leave my house. I am prone to anxiety and depression, which is being treated and is largely under control. I had a therapist here who really wasn't doing much for me, and she's the best option in this little town, and in fact I wrote her to ask for an appointment and she hasn't written me back. That was a week ago, so I"m feeling a little abandoned/alone/resentful of her and don't'want to go see her now. I've told some friends about my fears and they've been great for calming me down, but there's only so calm I can get, and I don't want to spend the holidays - that I've looked forward to for so long - crying and worrying.

Finally, I made an appointment to see another doctor tomorrow. I don't know if they will actually let me in, since I have no health card and the first clinic almost turned me away, but if I do get to see a doctor I'd like to know what I should ask about in terms of a second opinion. Will the doctor resent me for taking up their time when I've already been to see another doctor who ordered a scan? I'm in Canada so it's not like doctors have to cater to our needs to get our business...I'm not sure that second opinions are as common here as they are in the States? I don't want to go in and seem like a crazy hypochondriac by crying and blubbering...I want to be composed and informed and know what I'm there to ask. What tests could be done that the first doctor didn't do? I'd like to be able to advocate for myself to have whatever done that can be done to get to the bottom of this. Also, my scan is on Jan. 10th - which is pretty soon, but is that amount of time too long to wait if it is cancer? I mean, I know it's important to catch it early, but is <30 days of waiting going to make a difference? I think one thing that could help me stop worrying was if I knew that it wouldn't make a huge difference whether they caught it tomorrow or next month, but I'm not sure about the truth of that.

Note that I also have extreme fatigue, and my friend has been urging me to go to the doctor for the past couple of months because I spend most of my time sleeping or planning to go home to sleep. Also, I've been under a lot of stress with the end of the semester. Finally, my cramps aren't relieved by a bowel movement, I don't feel urgency to use the bathroom, and my stools have varied from diarrhea to constipation to normal. I also have a headache, no fever.

Sorry this is so long and unorganized. I just feel so scared and helpless and panicky.
posted by whalebreath to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Medical, not mental, response:

First off, I'm surprised that you're having a CAT scan and not a colonoscopy. You may want to discuss this with your physician.

I would recommend finding out from family members WHO HAVE ALREADY BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH COLON CANCER if any of them have had genetic testing. There are a few cancer/colon cancer syndromes (Lynch syndrome is one, there are others) that can be tested for to see if you have a familial "propensity" for certain kinds of cancers. Find a genetic counselor in your area and talk to them about this (although their first piece of advice will be to find out if any family members have had genetic testing yet).
posted by kuanes at 10:42 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you feel like you're "bothering" this second doctor, perhaps treat your visit with this second doctor as a visit to address the fatigue, and then tell him "oh, by the way, while i'm here -- could you answer a couple questions about what this other doctor did?" I'm a bit miffed on your behalf that the first doctor just prescribed you things without telling you what he thought was going on.

As for whether "does waiting about 30 days make a difference" -- well, if you think about it, if it DID make a difference, your first doctor would be in a WORLD of trouble if he thought there was a real problem and he still waited that long, right? So it stands to reason that if HE'S comfortable waiting until January, then you're probably okay. I admit that that's based on my own logic rather than medical science, but there's some logic to it...

But I also urge you to ask the questions you need to ask, and NOT feel embarrassed or guilty about wanting to know. It's their time, but it's YOUR HEALTH, and you need to know what's going on to YOUR satisfaction. You have that right!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:43 AM on December 13, 2011

I'm so sorry that you're terrified about your health--it's one of the worst and most helpless feelings in the world. First, take some deep breaths and do whatever you can to relax and eliminate acute feelings of panic. Take care of yourself with any soothing techniques you can think of: listen to your favorite music, watch a funny movie, take a bath, have some tea, write...anything.

It sounds like the doctor you saw could have been way more forthcoming about what he was looking for and thinking. Can you call and ask him the questions you were afraid to ask during your exam? Can you explain how afraid you are and that you really need to know what he thinks, either to give you peace of mind or to help you be more educated about what you're facing? Whether he responds or not, don't hesitate to bring up your concerns and questions with the second doctor. You are not wasting their time--you're trying to get better.

In the meantime, it might help if you stopped researching your symptoms on the internet until you have a diagnosis. It's so tempting, but it's really so easy to have confirmation bias, especially if you are afraid of a particular illness. I've diagnosed myself with all kinds of dreadful things this way, and subjected myself to a lot of unnecessary worry.

Also, your tension and anxiety are most probably exacerbated by your feelings of isolation. It's really good that you're going to be with family and friends very soon, and I'm sure you'll feel so much better and more able to handle your health issues. Can you reach out to anyone now and talk about what's going on? That might be a big help for you, too.

I wish you the best!
posted by swingbraid at 10:46 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Make sure the people you're visiting know about your health worry. Then they can be sure to be understanding if you're stressed. This is completely low key, no need to focus on your worries, but you will feel better knowing that security blanket of understanding is there if needed.

Big hugs....memail anytime if you wanna talk.
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:46 AM on December 13, 2011

I was clearly terrified, so much so that I didn't bother to ask him any questions about what he was thinking it could be.

This happens.
I've seen this happen to several friends.
In each case, I've suggested they call the doctor/clinic/hospital, to ask questions to clarify what happened in their past visit.

Usually, they get answers.
You may want to do the same. It seems like a totally normal thing to do, and nothing to stress over.
posted by vivid postcard at 10:47 AM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]

or what swingbraid said...
posted by vivid postcard at 10:47 AM on December 13, 2011

I'm canadian so I understand how you feel about canadian doctors and second opinions. But I also know that being super stressed out about your health is all consuming. I would suggest you go to 2nd doctor appointment and lay out what happened and say you would like more information on the medications because you are not sure whether you should take them or not. And them I would also ask for a non-interfering short-term anti-anxiety medication to tide you over until January.

I don't know anything and am certainly not a doctor and your history is concerning, but as a nervous person myself, I STRONGLY recommend you never look up symptoms again on the internet- there's a world of fear right there and most roads/symptoms seem to lead towards worst case scenerios.

Best health wishes to you, and you really need to enjoy your holiday regardless of what may or may not transpire on your jan 10th appointment.
posted by bquarters at 10:50 AM on December 13, 2011

Sorry you're going through this. Maybe info will help.

Here are the NCI guidelines about tests which should or could be done.

Finally, a reminder: "Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy. "
posted by Riverine at 10:53 AM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

it's okay to tell your family you 're in the middle of a health scare, and that's why you're stressed. just telling them so that people who love you are on your side may help with the stress and worry. and if any of them have experience with colon cancer, they may be able to talk to you intelligently about it. (i would not do this over xmas dinner obviously, but at another more private time.)

i would also be freaking the fuck out if i were in your shoes. you're fully justified in doing so.

i would try to call the doc who ordered the scan and ask them: 1) why did you order the scan? what do you suspect? 2) what are these drugs and why did you prescribe them. how is an antibiotic going to help me in this situation? sure, they might think you're an idiot for calling, but whatever. it's their job to answer you. if you don't get satisfactory answers, i'm not sure what to say.

i hope your appointment tomorrow goes okay. are you still having bloody/mucousy stool? if so, you should definitely bring that up at the new appt. that's generally supposed to be serious and investigated, especially if the blood is intermixed with the stool, and not just on it (like if you had torn while straining or something...)

good luck.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:54 AM on December 13, 2011

Seeing a doctor is your best bet, but until you can get to one, I suggest trying an anti-inflamatory diet. This was recommended by an acupuncturist for IBS and I know from many people that have tried it that it helps tremendously. You'll loose the bloated feeling and gain more energy and alleviate your digestive symptoms. Stay away from processed and refined foods, high fat foods, sodium, and nightshade plants (eggplant, tomato, potato). Choose organic options and eat whole grains, leafy green veggies, berries, lean meats, ginger (as a spice and in tea) and a lot of water. Things like: brown rice, rice or almond milk, fish, chicken, sweet potatoes, kale, cabbage to name a few. Also, steaming your veggies lightly so they are easier to digest helps a lot. Good luck and hope you feel better soon.
posted by i_wear_boots at 10:55 AM on December 13, 2011

Don't worry at all about seeing a second doctor! I'm glad you've got an appointment. I would recommend that you type up your questions, then put them in order with the most important ones at the top, print it out, and bring it along to your visit. That way if you get too anxious or forgetful, you can refer to your list, or even just hand it over to the doctor so he or she can go through them.

Some things I would put on the list if I were you:

- What diagnoses are you considering with these symptoms?
- What tests can be run to help prove or rule out any of these possibilities?
- I have a strong family history of cancer: mom/dad/siblings had [this kind of cancer] at age [whenever].* Does that put me at greater risk of having cancer?
- What do you think is the most likely diagnosis?

I agree that a colonoscopy seems like it would be a reasonable test, so maybe you'd want to ask whether it's appropriate for you, or if not, why not.

For what it's worth, colon cancer at your age is very, very rare. More than 90% of people diagnosed with colon cancer are over age 50. Also, colon cancer is usually a very slow-growing problem, which is why routine colonoscopies are usually only recommended every 10 years -- because it would take more than 10 years for a polyp to grow and develop into cancer.

* If you don't know your family's history with cancer, beyond that it's "very intense," now would be a great time to call them up and find out. You want to know who had it, where it originated (e.g. colon, breast, prostate, etc.), how old they were when they were diagnosed, and of course whether they're still living. Asking to see if anyone has had genetic testing for inherited susceptibility to cancer is also a great idea.
posted by vytae at 11:01 AM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I can sympathize, being terrified of any medical problem since I was young, but in fact have gotten old without anything serious except for recent diagnoses of insulin resistance that has me scared. It is really hard to overcome this kind of panic. Being around people who care and who you can share your fears with really helps, your holiday will be a good one despite the worries because you will not be alone with them.

Seconding not looking for symptoms on the internet, it makes you feel worse. And if you are like me you jump to the worst possible scenario with symptoms you read online. And stress is hell on gastrointestinal problems.

I too am surprised they did not schedule a colonoscopy. Ask your doctor about that, and do not be afraid to get a second opinion, and also calling back the first doc to ask more questions. A good doctor will answer your questions and explain why he did what he did. Also get a full blood workup if you have not, lots of things can cause fatigue, most of them minor and treatable.

Breathe, relax, try not to dwell on your symptoms now, and talk to those who care about you when you get there. As I keep telling myself, most of what we fear never happens, and worry solves nothing. You will feel better when you take some action in calling the first doctor, and possibly seeing another one as well.
posted by mermayd at 11:10 AM on December 13, 2011

Like vytae said - write down or print out every question you've got. I'd go one further and bring a trusted, very calm friend with you to the second appointment. Explain to the doctor that you're experiencing extreme anxiety about your symptoms (because you are), if you feel it's necessary to explain yourself. You're not bothering anyone, in the slightest. Go get it checked out properly.
posted by facetious at 11:21 AM on December 13, 2011

I am confused as to why you are not taking your antibiotics. No good reason? You're having bloody diarrhea! That sounds like a pretty good reason to me.

I want to chime in with the above posters who say colon cancer at your age is ridiculously rare. Unless your family history specifically includes people getting colon cancer at a very young age, I don't think that you have any reason to worry about it. I think it's WAY more likely that it's an infection. If you get a second opinion, I'm sure the first thing they'll ask is, "Well, did you take the antibiotics? Why not?" I feel like a CAT scan and all the other stuff would be the next step only if the antibiotics failed to work. So, maybe you should take them first and see what happens?

(IANAD. But I am in the middle of studying for my final exams, and topics include GI cancer, other GI pathology, and bacteria-caused diarrheal diseases, among other things. And if I were in your position I would start by taking my antibiotics, like, yesterday. I'd seek a second opinion if that didn't clear it up.) I agree that taking antibiotics for "no good reason" is pointless but I feel like maybe a cold would fall in that category. Not this. If you DO have a bacterial infection (which I don't think is unlikely) letting it go unchecked by not taking them, while you freak out about cancer is only going to give it time to get worse and cause more damage.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 11:33 AM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

To clarify though, I don't think you should wait until your scheduled CAT scan to see a doctor and resolve your feelings on this. I agree that you should go to another doctor ASAP and tell them your worries (and I'd also probably ask why I was told to get a CAT scan in the first place and whether it was necessary.) My main point was just that in the meantime I don't think it would be the worst idea to start on those antibiotics.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 11:38 AM on December 13, 2011

When I had a scare recently, when I started to freak, I would tell myself that it was X days until my next appointment, that I had a list of questions to ask, and I would just not think about it for X days. And then I could add that I had managed not to freak for 2 days (which was sometimes a lie, but what the hey - I know I meant well!) and I could make it through the remaining days until the next appointment.

Tried to keep busy and spent a lot of time watching "The Supernatural" on DVD.

For what it's worth, mostly, I didn't say nothin' to nobody about what was going on (outside of vague excuses when I wasn't going to eat something or skipping booze) because ... Because I didn't want to deal with having to make other people feel better if they felt bad for me. You might be another type of person.

Did tell an MD friend because I wanted to verify that I was taking the right steps and having the right tests and like that.

(It was nothing. It's usually nothing. That's my all time favorite medical advice: "It's probably nothing, it's usually nothing.")
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:45 PM on December 13, 2011

You sound like me. I used to be a big hypochondriac and skeptical of doctors who did not seem to be taking me seriously. It is exhausting always to be in fear about some insidious health issue while also feeling ashamed and slily for second guessing professional judgment.

Here's the thing, and take it from a somewhat reformed hypochondriac: When you Google symptoms, the Internet tells you you have cancer. It doesn't matter what those symptoms are. Stomach hurts? Cancer. Vomiting? Cancer. Headaches? Cancer. Feeling kind of tired and out of it? Cancer.

I am not saying you do not have cancer. There is no way I nor anyone else here can know this, though I think the odds are probably overwhelming that your symptoms are caused by something else and less drastic. What I am saying is that you need to trust medical personnel. I spent a good part of my college years consumed with anxiety about health risks, intermittently seeing doctors, and then disregarding their advice immediately because their concern wasn't of the seriousness that I felt my conditions warranted. This was toxic to my mental and physical well-being. I felt scared and alone and ashamed for feeling scared about concerns that should rationally have been debunked by competent doctors' counsel. Please don't go down that rabbit hole.

If you think it will help, get a second opinion. However, if that doctor also seems dismissive or doesn't suggest you have cancer, believe them. They know what they are doing. In the meantime, take your drugs and see what happens and go for your scan in January. Don't refuse treatment because you have constructed a doomsday scenario in your head; this mode of thinking is its own sort of cancer.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 12:49 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

I am a sufferer of IBS and a recovering hypochondriac. You certainly have some scary and distressing symptoms - this is absolutely true. But your interpretation of the facts, where you have decided that the most dire possible illness is the one that you have: that's driven by anxiety, not by the facts.

As dixiecupdrinking was saying above, if you google virtually any symptom, you come up with cancer. Yes, that's a (remote) possibility. I am not an expert on colon cancer. But GI problems in general can be difficult to diagnose, because symptoms for many problems are overlapping and non-specific. It often takes months to properly diagnose an illness. Therefore, based on the limited info available to you - GI symptoms - you simply do not have the facts to determine that you are more likely to have colon cancer than anything else, particularly considering your age, no matter what you think Dr Google has indicated. For example, your symptoms, as you have described them here, could absolutely be symptoms of Crohn's disease (which I have)! Which is no picnic, but not colon cancer. It could be the symptoms of many other GI disorders or infections as well.
posted by Ladysin at 1:26 PM on December 13, 2011

IANAD, but I would try to both clarify the problem with the first doctor and get the second opinion, as suggested, before taking the antibiotics. Antibiotics are often prescribed when there is no medical reason to take them - this happens all the freaking time. As you might know, they can mess with your gut microbiota (good guys and possible bad guys both) with effects that can last for a long time in terms of stability of good guys vs. bad guys. You might not want to mess with your gut microbiota until you know what's going on - destabilizing them might be the worst thing to do right now.

My suggestion as well, in addition to clarifying the first doctor's opinion and getting a second opinion, are to change your diet slightly in a way that almost definitely can have no negative effect, and might have a positive effect.
1) Remove gluten from your diet - there are a ton of undiagnosed celiacs in the world, and your systems (digestive problems and fatigue) could fit with that
2) Remove FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides and Polyols) like onions, artichokes, asparagus and leeks from your diet. These foods can be improperly digested, leading to bloating and cramps in some people.
3)Eat simple, nourishing foods like white rice, broth based soups (made with long-cooked bone broth if you can), easily digested proteins like eggs, chicken and fish, and fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, raw sauerkraut and kombucha to help smooth out possible problems with your gut microbiota. If you do take the antibiotics be sure to eat fermented foods as well.
posted by permiechickie at 1:49 PM on December 13, 2011

Okay, horrible worst case scenario: say it is cancer. Everyone's right that it probably isn't, but the reality is that cancer happens. My friend got sick with a very rare cancer at 25. But whatever you do in the next few weeks until the CAT scan can't magically reverse the possible cancer, or generate it where there is none. It's out of your hands. Don't look more cancer stuff up on the internets until you have a diagnosis. You may feel helpless right now, but that information won't give you a sense of control.

What will help:

What things might you want to do to make this holiday really meaningful? Call up old friends? Forgive old quarrels? Take family photos? Journal? What things can you do now with your (relatively) good energy? Winter solstice is coming up, and I find that to be a very good day to meditate on beginnings and endings. Take a small notebook and write down your thoughts and ideas, so if you get sidetracked into anxiety you can give yourself a comforting task. Cut paper snowflakes. Brainstorm gifts to give.

Truth is, none of us know if we'll be healthy and alive next Christmas. I could be in a car accident tomorrow. The uncertainty is always present, but we ignore it. It is very uncomfortable to contemplate having a terrible illness this time of year. But there's opportunity as well.

I visited my sick friend a few Christmases ago and she was feeling well enough to have her husband drive us around to see the neighborhood lights. It is my very favorite Christmas memory, and I have nothing but good feelings about spending that time with her, and linking that tradition to her. Sure, she had cancer, but we were happy and we laughed and had a nice time. I could not begin to calculate how valuable that memory of my friend is to me.

Now is the time to seek company. Let people distract you from dwelling on the uncertainty. You don't have to tell them what's going on with you. Get everyone's phone numbers and contact info so you can lean on them after the holidays when you go home. Build a raft of goodwill to carry you into the days beyond. Tell your family and friends all the nice things you think about them but don't say. Look at all the little positive connections you can make now. Not because of cancer (screw cancer, seriously - do not give it the power to ruin your life even before it is a reality), but because everyone is mortal, and we forget the power of memory making.

I really hope that next Christmas you can remember you weren't feeling well and had a health scare, but all the good memories and connections you created made it a positive thing in the long run.
posted by griselda at 2:21 PM on December 13, 2011

I do think you should take the Lomotil (which isn't really a painkiller for the cramps, it's an anti-diarrheal medication). It works fairly quickly and could give you physical relief.

As far as other tests the second doctor might do, a stool sample is one possible test, or (as someone already mentioned) a colonoscopy. Blood and mucus in the stool are both things that, generally speaking, shouldn't be there, but there are many, many possible explanations.

Good luck with tomorrow's appointment!
posted by shiny blue object at 2:44 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've thought that I had colon cancer in the past too. You very likely do not. First off, 27 is extremely young for colon cancer. Second, your doctor gave you antibiotics. You want to know why he gave you them without doing any tests for a bacterial infection. Here's why: the test that he would do is a stool sample. A stool sample is extremely unpleasant. I wouldn't wish having to collect one on anyone (not painful, just very, very gross). So he probably suspects a bacterial infection, and is giving you the antibiotics to clear it up without putting you through the unpleasantness of the test. Take the antibiotics!

Actually, you might benefit from hearing my "I thought I had colon cancer" story. So, one day, I get a stomachache. Bothersome, but not horrible. I figure I'll wait until it goes away. But it didn't. So I went to my college health center and talked to them. They ran a lot of tests (including the stool sample. Ugh.), and we tried a lot of things: cutting alcohol out of my diet, cutting caffeine, etc. Nothing worked and none of the tests showed anything. Finally went to get a CAT scan and was sent to a GI doctor to get the results. He said they were clear. Then he asked, "were you by any chance on antibiotics six months or so before this started?" Jaw dropped. "Um, yes." Turns out that antibiotics kill the bacteria in your intestine, and when they grow back, it can change the rate or rhythm of intestinal pulsation, which you experience as pain. It doesn't usually last for 8 months (which it did for me), but the anxiety over thinking I had cancer even though not a single doctor told me that I might was making the pain stay. It went away the very next day after my GI doctor visit.

Here's what I suggest, beyond taking the antibiotics (which you,re going to do, right? RIGHT?)

1. Avoid looking anything up on the Internet. Self-diagnosis is a bad idea, and if you could just use web md to figure out what's wrong with you, we wouldn't need medical schools. Speaking of that, if you absolutely must look up information online, I strongly suggest that you rely exclusively on the Mayo Clinic website. Under no circumstances should you go to Web MD. That website should be called "the you probably have cancer website." Here is a NY Times article comparing the two, and explaining how and why Web MD is designed to scare the shit out of you. Don't use it!

2. Call your first doctor and ask him what he thinks is going on. I know you don't want to do this. You're scared of what he might say, and you don't want him to think you're crazy. Do it anyway. Every time I'm in this situation I don't want to call the doctor and ask. Every time I do I'm amazed at how much better I feel. Really, call him as soon as you can.

You'll be ok. MeMail me if you want to talk about this more - I know what it's like to struggle with health anxiety.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:58 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing the idea to take in a list of what you want to ask the doctor.

And, just this: My heart goes out to you. Uncertainty is scary, but once you can figure out the problem, you can make a plan. Good Luck.
posted by annsunny at 5:04 PM on December 13, 2011

Antibiotics are often prescribed when there is no medical reason to take them - this happens all the freaking time. As you might know, they can mess with your gut microbiota (good guys and possible bad guys both) with effects that can last for a long time in terms of stability of good guys vs. bad guys. You might not want to mess with your gut microbiota until you know what's going on - destabilizing them might be the worst thing to do right now.

What??!! Please do not listen to this.

Antibiotics are prescribed for "nothing" most frequently because patients insist on having them and it's easier for the doctor to just say yes than explain why not. Because lots of patients don't want to "just do nothing" when they have a viral illness, or walk out of a doctor's appointment they paid money for without a scrip in hand. Should the doctors be giving in and prescribing them in these cases? No, not really. But that is another issue and not the case here. Having BLOOD IN YOUR STOOL is a significant symptom and should be taken seriously by FOLLOWING YOUR DOCTOR'S ADVICE and taking the antibiotic. The effects of "messing with your gut microbiota" is a ridiculous reason not to take them. You're afraid of upsetting the balance of good guys versus bad guys? Um, if this is in fact a bacterial infection that's causing BLOOD, the bad guys are already winning. The barrier normally provided by colonization of good bacteria on your gut wall has already been breached, because SOMETHING has reached it and caused it to bleed. The bad guys need to be taken care of as soon as possible. For shit's sake. Being worried about upsetting the balance of good vs bad bugs? [okay, i wrote and deleted a description of what could potentially happen if certain types of the 'bad' bugs go untreated, but this thread is a little hypochondriac-y already so i'm not gonna go there.] My point was that this sort of logic is similar to people who don't want to wear seatbelts for fear of getting trapped in the car. Leaving a potential infection untreated can lead to much nastier results than whatever the (mild, temporary) side effects of an unnecessary antibiotic might be.

Not to mention the fact that- you seem annoyed that you didn't get a diagnosis. But the thing is, part of diagnosing the cause of an illness involves ruling things out. If you take the antibiotic and it doesn't do anything, it rules out a bacterial infection and will lead doctors to consider another diagnosis. If you just don't take it, you're not getting any closer to figuring out what's wrong with you. That's why I said (above) that if you do go for a second opinion, and you tell them you got prescribed and antibiotic but you didn't take it, they'll want to know why. It would be much more useful if you could go in and say "I've been taking the antibiotic for this many days and my symptoms have/ have not changed." From their point of view, it makes a lot more sense to rule out the far more likely/ easier to treat causes first (i.e. a bacterial infection/ antibiotics) before moving on to the very highly unlikely/ more costly to diagnose causes (such as cancer.)

Please don't listen to the people saying changing your diet is all you need to do, with all due respect they don't know what they're talking about. Having blood in your stool is not normal and needs to be dealt with by intervention from medical professionals, whatever the cause is. Taking antibiotics in the meantime, while you work with the doctors to figure out the cause, is advisable. Because the consequence of NOT taking it if you do need it is much worse than the consequence of taking it if you don't turn out to really need it. I think your doctor had reasonable cause to believe you might need an antibiotic. But if you don't want to take it, then don't. There are tons of patients out there who go to the doctor and then completely disregard the advice they receive in lieu of something they read on the internet. It's a real problem, worse than the problem of prescribing unnecessary antibiotics. (And far more likely to be irritating to your doctor than the act of simply seeking a second opinion, which to answer your original question, is a perfectly fine thing to do that a doctor should not hold against you.)
posted by GastrocNemesis at 5:05 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

There is a history of bowel cancer in my family, too, with an aunt dying of it and my Mom being successfully treated for it years ago. Neither of them were young women. I have also been screened (albeit I'm pretty young - see upstream for average age of diagnosis, with 50 seeming pretty young to me, to be honest). In all cases, the standard diagnostic approach was sigmoidoscopy / colonoscopy. Maybe it's diiferent where you are, but here the national guidelines state upfront that in cases where investigation is needed, the key recommendations are:

"People who may have colorectal cancer should be offered rapid referral for endoscopy
Endoscopy should be available for diagnosis

And I also absolutely agree with those other commenters who point out that in the vast, vast majority of cases, blood and mucus in the stool are much more likely to be from a bacterial cause, or some other non-adverse cause. There is a minimal chance it's likely to be more serious, but again as others have indicated, if that were the case it would, in all probability, be all over your family history like a rash; I'm not a doctor etc etc but this is from my own knowledge of our family and the info I've been given during the screening process.

I have also had serious bouts of health anxiety and it is a miserable place to be, and I'm so sorry you feel so bad at the moment.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 6:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't take the antibiotics without starting quality, high dosage probiotics as soon as possible.
posted by serena15221 at 9:13 PM on December 13, 2011

I know that health problems can be really scary, but if you're suddenly having new pains that are severe enough to make you double over, you really need to not "wait a few weeks" until you notice blood in your stool to get it taken care of.

If you're like me, worry is not going to ease your stomach problems, it's going to make them worse. Can you call on your friends to help you again? Perhaps say "hi Friend, I know we just discussed this recently but I'm still feeling very scared, can we talk about it again?" The way I get my problems sorted out is usually by talking/writing about them, and sometimes I do need to talk or write multiple times to get it all out.

It is okay to cry in the doctor's office. Write down your questions - that way you won't forget them and if you do cry, you can just hand them to the doctor instead of asking them.

Sometimes when a doctor is not communicating with you, you really need to stand up for yourself by asking the questions you want answers to. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, is there a trusted friend or family member you can take along who can say "remember, you wanted to ask about this" or actually ask the questions for you, and help you remember the answers?

Finally, I think if there was a chance of you getting significantly sicker in the next 30 days, your doctor would have put you in the hospital. Please follow your doctor's instructions with regards to any medication he gave you and do not take medical advice from this thread. In a case of bowel issues, I wouldn't even take probiotics without asking your doctor first. Don't forget to mention your fatigue and headaches to the doctor.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:32 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry you're going through this. What a worry.

My suggestion is that you ask the second doctor for a referral for a colonoscopy. I had to go into my fiancé's doctor's office and basically demand he get one after the doc said he was to young to have colon cancer (he's 37). However, his family has a history of the disease and, when his father died of it this summer, he told my fiancé and his sisters to get tested as it was genetic. It was a very easy procedure. They found and removed one polyp and they want to see him again in five years.

Just tell them your concerns and your family history and they will get you one. If that is what it is, you can live a long life if it's caught early enough.

Best of luck to you. xx
posted by heffalump at 5:38 PM on December 15, 2011

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