Preparing for Your Doctor’s Visit

By Dr. Rodger Elble,
Department of Neurology
,
Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

Preparing for your visit with a movement disorder specialist will increase the odds of accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment at an affordable cost. A complete and accurate medical history is crucial.

rodger elble photo

Here are some things you can do to facilitate a successful clinic visit.

1.  Prepare a written chronological history of your problem. What was your initial symptom (e.g., hand tremor) and when did this symptom begin? It is important to estimate the time or age of onset as accurately as possible. This may be long before the time when your tremor and other symptoms became disabling or really bothered you. Describe how the tremor started (e.g., suddenly or gradually) and how the tremor has progressed. Which areas of your body were affected initially and subsequently? Has there been a recent or rapid worsening? If so, was this associated with other events or medical problems (e.g., a new medication)? Note any changes in your balance, coordination, gait, and speech. Tell your doctor about any involuntary movements other than tremor (e.g., body jerks, twisting movement of the neck or limbs).

2.  Note any medications, substances or circumstances that make your tremor better or worse. Prepare a list of all treatments you have tried for your tremor.

3.  Prepare a family history. Document any relatives with tremor or other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, dystonia, ataxia, neuropathy, etc.

4.  Prepare a list of past medical problems and note whether they had any effect on your tremor. A recent medical summary from your primary care physician will be helpful. Bring a complete list of current medications and their dosages. Your pharmacist can help you with this.

5.  Be prepared to discuss how your tremor affects your daily life. Which activities are affected most? How has your handwriting changed? How does tremor affect your occupation and social life? Has your tremor affected you emotionally? Have you been depressed? You should be as accurate and candid as possible.

6.  Do not stop any medication unless requested by your doctor.

Your doctor will perform a thorough neurological examination to assess tremor severity and look for abnormalities other than tremor. Patients referred for essential tremor frequently have some other condition that is revealed by a careful neurological exam. There is no test for essential tremor.

At the end of your visit, make sure you understand your diagnosis and treatment options. Ask questions. Discuss your goals and expectations with regard to your tremor, but understand that available treatment is not always adequate. Consider participating in a research study if one is available and appropriate for your condition. Ongoing and recently completed research studies can be found online at ClinicalTrials.gov.