Many patients describe their first visit to a naturopathic doctor (ND) as the most thorough medical examination they have ever experienced. A naturopathic doctor begins by taking a “history,” or health assessment, during which he or she asks questions about various aspects of your health. Don’t be surprised if your ND asks some questions that you haven’t been asked before. In addition to covering all aspects of your current concern – when it started, how it feels, whether it’s constant or periodic, if you have other symptoms at the same time – a naturopathic doctor also asks about various bodily parts and functions, such as hearing, sleep patterns, bowel function and sex life. These issues provide insight into your overall picture of health. Naturopathic doctors also typically ask about your childhood and important moments in your life; your relationships with your partner, friends and family; and questions regarding your work life. You will also be asked in some detail about your diet and lifestyle habits, such as exercise and whether or not you smoke. Keep in mind, you do not have to answer any questions that make you uncomfortable; however, the more information a naturopathic doctor has, the better he or she can treat you.
Most NDs ask you to fill out a detailed questionnaire at the office, and many make their forms available online or can send them to you before the appointment.
Most visits with a naturopathic doctor include a physical examination. As with conventional doctors, “vital signs,” such as temperature, blood pressure, weight and pulse, are routinely recorded. NDs also perform any additional examination necessary to determine the source of your health problem, such as palpating the abdomen, checking for reflexes, or looking in the ears, eyes and mouth. Naturopathic doctors are also trained to perform gynecological exams and pap smears.
Physical examination is a very important aspect of a doctor’s care. There are many things that can be determined by examining the patient that may not be found on lab tests or x-rays. The examination findings may also tell the doctor things that your symptoms or history may not reveal, such as the presence of masses, color changes in skin or mucous membranes or subtle changes in your ability to see or feel.
Naturopathic doctors use a variety of testing methods to assess body function and locate evidence of particular concerns. Many of these tests are identical or similar to those run by conventional doctors: blood tests for anemia and liver problems, urine tests for kidney problems, stool tests for infections, and the like.
Naturopathic doctors also use tests less commonly employed by MDs. Certain blood, urine, stool and saliva tests help NDs assess the function of various organs and body systems.
- Blood tests help determine food allergies or look for deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.
- Saliva tests are most often used to assess adrenal gland function by looking at levels of the hormone cortisol at different points during the day. Saliva tests are also useful for assessing imbalances in other hormone systems.
- Urine tests are commonly used to look for heavy metal toxicity and check hormone and neurotransmitter levels.
- Stool tests are useful for determining bacterial imbalances, the presence of candida and other fungi, and can identify markers for inflammation or poor digestion.
Some of these tests may be covered by your insurance. In addition to ordering necessary new testing, an ND will also closely examine any recent blood tests or imaging reports (X-rays, MRIs, etc.) to create a composite picture of your health and develop a custom treatment plan that will ultimately address the root causes of your health concerns.