Sleuthing to solve your medical mystery

Q: I have seen an internist and a gastroenterologist, but still have unexplained chronic ailments. What else can I do?

A: With advances in internet searches and artificial intelligence (AI), it is tempting to self-diagnose. Don’t do it. Leave the analysis for professional providers. 

What you can do while searching for answers is to approach the situation like a mystery—by thoroughly and systematically cataloging your symptoms.

Here are a few easy steps to take.

Approach each medical mystery with a blank mind. Do not jump to conclusions or believe just because a friend or relative has similar symptoms that you have the same diagnosis.

Define the mystery. What symptoms are you having? How often? What time of day are you experiencing them? Duration of symptoms (days, weeks, months)? Write down specific details.

Learn how to read a situation. Are your symptoms after eating certain foods, or taking specific medications? Are you experiencing pain after stressful situations? Focus on what is happening and avoid distracting thoughts.

Use logic. Review your notes separating what is relevant and important from what is not. Pore over your notes to see if any connections emerge. Take your “jottings” and compile an easy-to-follow narrative. Think of it as your coherent summary of facts. Include ‘when X occurs, I feel Y’, or ‘when I do X, Y happens’. Reviewing, reworking, and rewriting your jottings into detailed notes will strengthen your grasp of the information.

Recognize vital facts from incidental facts. Logical thoughts have premises and conclusions. Premises support conclusions. Your statements must not only be valid, but also sound. Valid means the statements have good structure, and sound means they are both valid and based on true premises. Incidental facts are not the main portion of your symptomatic summary, but the vital facts are.

Never give up the opportunity to listen. Verbally sharing your symptoms links what you already know about your body or mind, to what is happening that is new. Stating your symptoms out loud to others aids in maximum recall by transferring brain data from its temporary storage, when you first encounter info, to long-term memory. This minimizes loss of details or information by prompting you to remember facts and capturing more pieces of the medical puzzle.

Visualize symptoms. Converting information to images makes it easier to recall. This “method of loci,” a technique that originated in ancient Greece, was used by Sherlock Holmes to imagine he was storing bits of information in a “memory palace”. To remember a piece of information, you “drop it” along the path and later retrace your steps and “pick it up.” By visually drawing the places that ache or where pain is occurring the impression gets embedded in your mind.

Suggestion: on a piece of paper draw an outline of your whole body. If you are experiencing cardiac issues, write words that capture your symptoms such as “breath” across throat area (gasping for breath), and “flutter” over the chest (for rapid heart beats), and on the left arm “shaky” (how your arms feel). Then retrace and review your body imagery with your provider showing exactly where you are experiencing pain or symptoms. This visualization helps you remember the data and info.

Once your information is fully compiled, separating what is most necessary from what is not, and you still need answers to determine what ails you, further detective work may be in order. After exhausting primary available sources, consider reaching out to these additional agencies:

The State of Alaska Department of Public Health one resource. Also the Mayo Clinic, Swedish Health Services or the Center for the Undiagnosed Patient, a specialty Cedars-Sinai clinic founded in 2017 to diagnose and treat patients whose conditions have defied identification is another source of medical advice. 

Keep up the persistence with consistency, and hopefully with tenacity you will find answers.

Karen Casanovas, PCC, CPCC, CLIPP is a health, wellness and professional coach practicing in Anchorage. If you have questions write to her at

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