When Should You Call the Doctor?

Last updated: August 2022

When I had my first child, I was often plagued by this very question. Every scrape, bruise, or cold doesn’t necessarily warrant a call to the pediatrician and over time, as a parent you learn to differentiate between which boo-boos require a call to the doctor and which do not. But what about life with psoriatic arthritis (PsA)? Does it get easier to know when to call the doctor over time?

Determining what psoriatic arthritis symptoms are "normal"

Psoriatic arthritis is a unique experience for each of us. For one person, they may struggle with inflammation in their eyes (uveitis), while another may have odd rashes or swollen fingers (dactylitis). In addition to experiencing of all of the symptoms in varying degrees. With such a wide range of ways PsA can affect our lives, it is so difficult to know what’s “normal,” when we should call the doctor, or even head to the Emergency Room.

Waiting for an appointment

If you are lucky, your rheumatologist’s office will be chock full of smiling, helpful nurses just waiting to answer your every question or concern. But chances are, your nurses are overworked, underpaid, and while they tend to always give their best, they are limited by more factors than we as patients will ever know. So if you are concerned, you could call. You could leave a message. Wait for a call back, often with very few answers your questions. Or even try to make an appointment, but chances are, if your rheumy is any good, it will be weeks, if not months, before you can get in.

Everyone wants to be taken seriously by their doctor. If you call too often, there is always the fear of being seen as a “hypochondriac” or just thinking that you are overreacting. On the flip side, you’ll never forgive yourself if you should have called and didn’t. Add in the stress and anxiety of the whole situation, not to mention to questionable symptoms, and it can be hard to think straight sometimes.

Helpful tips to keep in mind

When it comes to making the decision to call the doctor with a question or concern, here are some things that I’ve found helpful to keep in mind.

  • How much does it (the symptom or side effect) impact or affect your daily life?

    Doctor’s love their “scales” so think in your head, on a scale of 1-10 how much is it affect your daily life? My personal suggestion is if you arrive at the answer of 10, consider skipping the doctor altogether and head to the Emergency Room. Over 5? Go ahead and make an appointment. If you land somewhere in the 5 and under category, skip on to the next questions.

  • Does your office have guidelines?

    Always a good idea to ask upon your initial diagnosis, but office guidelines, clearly spelled out are one of the markings of a fantastic rheumatologist’s office. If you haven’t asked yet, be sure to make a note to ask at your next appointment. Some offices even have common FAQs on their website. Or if you are super lucky, some doctors even have an online system allowing you to create an account, login, and send a message to your doctor or a nurse.

  • Does insurance offer a nurse support line?

If you are still unsure if your symptom, side effect, or situation warrants a call to the doctor, and you have insurance, flip your card over or login online. Many major insurance carriers (in America at least) offer a free nurse support line. Highly trained and in my experience, very compassionate, these nurses can offer sound, experienced advice.

I know, trying to figure out when to call the doctor and when to simply wait it out or manage it until your next appointment can be challenging. With the myriad of symptoms and side effects related to psoriatic arthritis, it can be difficult to sort it all out.

***Please remember, only you can decide in the end what warrants a call to the doctor or an appointment to go in, my thoughts and experiences are certainly not meant to be medical advice. Just know that when you have questions or concerns, take the time to find the answers. Know that you are not alone with feelings of uncertainty about when to call your doctor. ***

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