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When you go the doctor, it is generally because you do not feel well. Your symptoms alone, however, do not always indicate exactly what is wrong. The doctor runs tests to verify your symptoms, and the test results can pinpoint the problem to guide treatment.

There is, however, a very important caveat to this: the numbers on a test are not as important as how you feel. If the numbers are perfect across the board, but you still feel sick, then something is wrong. A clear understanding of what a patient is experiencing is paramount to guiding effective treatment.

What Tests Can Tell Us

There are a range of tests that can be run to identify different deficiencies, over-abundances and imbalances in the body. Basic hormone blood work includes tests for testosterone, estrogen,progesterone and thyroid levels. Height, weight, BMI, pulse rate and respiratory rate are also useful. Among these tests is usually the answer as to why a patient is not feeling well. For example, if a man is experiencing weight gain and his testosterone comes back at its optimal level, but his thyroid comes back low, then the doctor knows to treat the thyroid. On the other hand, if testosterone is low, then it becomes the target for treatment. Tests are indispensable tools for guiding diagnosis and treatment.

Treating the Patient, Not the Lab Results

Imagine a doctor assessing a patient with symptoms indicating strep throat. The doctor looks into the throat and sees the patient’s infection; but the test results come back negative. What should the doctor do? Most would treat that patient for strep throat anyways.

When diseases are less ostensible than strep, however, this logic loses out. Tests are valued above the patient experience by many general practitioners and specialists. The incidence of misdiagnosis decreases the more time a practitioner spends with patients, no matter how much blood work is done. Listening to how a patient feels is as important – if not more so – than what the numbers on a page say. This is critical not only for diagnosis, but also for treatment. As treatment progresses, if a patient does not feel better, it does not matter if those numbers improve.

Treating a patient as a whole, and not just as a set of lab results, is the most effective way to successfully alleviate his or her symptoms. Tests can provide guidance, but in the end the doctor must talk to patients and really listen to how they feel.