Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Too Many Health Complaints?

I’m embarrassed to go to the doctor because I have so many complaints - shortness of breath, dry mouth, dizziness, my feet hurt, I get too many headaches, and I feel like a wreck. Won’t the doctor think I’m just whining? 

Answer (Published 1/3/2011)

You raise a good point. Sometimes, doctors are too quick to dismiss a multitude of complaints as simply stress-related or perhaps symptoms of anxiety or depression. And sometimes, we are wrong. Writing in the New York Times on Nov. 11, 2010, internist Danielle Ofri, M.D. described an encounter with a patient who came in with a "sea of complaints," a long list of physical problems written on a piece of paper - headaches, eye pain, pounding in her ears, shortness of breath, dizziness, needling sensations in her chest and trouble sleeping among others.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Your Whole Body - Foods, herbs and drugs can all interact, sometimes in unexpected ways. Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor takes known interactions into account when developing nutritional supplement recommendations, to help safeguard against adverse effects. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor recommendation today.

The physical exam was unremarkable, and the patient had had a normal EKG and cardiac stress test within the past year. However, she clearly was under a lot of stress and described to the doctor tensions stemming from her mother's illness, her job, and her son, 28, who "still can't support himself."

Dr. Ofri wrote that she discussed with her patient how stress could lead to physical symptoms and that by treating the stress, some of the pain might diminish. That night, the doctor was called to the emergency room to learn that her patient had just been admitted to the hospital with a pulmonary embolus, a potentially fatal blood clot on the lung. That's what had caused the chest pain and shortness of breath.

"The truth was (that) any of her symptoms might have masked a life-threatening illness," Dr. Ofri wrote. "Headaches could have been a cerebral aneurysm. Needling sensations in the chest could have been angina. Pounding in her ears could have been a brain tumor. But I had to rely on my clinical judgment that it was extremely unlikely for her to have all of these serious conditions simultaneously, so I chalked it all up to stress. And I was wrong."

This experience led Dr. Ofri to devise a system for dealing with patients who come into her office with multiple complaints. She tells them that she will focus on just three issues during each appointment - two selected by the patient and one by the doctor. That way, the patient can choose the two symptoms that are most bothersome while the doctor can zero in on the one that might suggest a serious illness.

Dr. Ofri clearly learned a painful lesson. Her story has ramifications for patients as well as doctors. You may have multiple complaints, and they may all stem from stress, but just in case, it's always best to check out what's bothering you and to focus on your most troubling symptoms.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here