As any functional medicine practitioner will tell you, the medical symptom questionnaire is one of the most important parts of the functional medicine assessment. When paired with a client’s health history and health timeline, it forms a complete picture of the client’s entire health journey.
As your functional medicine coach, this picture gives me critical insight into what may be causing your symptoms, so we can come up with the right plan for addressing the root of the problem.
What is the medical symptom questionnaire?
Because functional medicine seeks to address the underlying causes of disease, it’s important to understand which areas of the body are showing signs of imbalance.
The symptom questionnaire helps me do this by categorizing your symptoms (headaches, poor digestion, acne, etc.) into the body’s different systems (head, digestive tract, skin, etc.). By looking at this questionnaire, I’m given a snapshot of which systems are impacting your symptoms the most, so I know which area of the body to target first.
Believe it or not, a wide range of symptoms can stem from the same area of the body. For example, mood imbalances, skin issues, poor digestion, and chronic infections can all be a sign that your gut needs some work.
Conventional medicine’s approach would be to diagnose and treat each of these symptoms separately, creating a cascade of other side effects and health issues. With a functional medicine approach, we can address multiple systems in the body just by restoring the health of our cells and create long-term results, through diet and lifestyle changes.
Understanding your symptom questionnaire results
When you fill out your symptom questionnaire, you’ll be asked to rate a list of symptoms on a scale of 1-4. Once you’re finished, you tally your score by adding the total for each category. The higher your symptom score, the more imbalances there are in the body that need to be addressed.
The accuracy of your results heavily depends on how you view your symptoms. If you have a strong level of body awareness, you should be able to accurately gauge where your symptoms fall in each category. If your focus gravitates towards the symptom that’s bothering you most, it could affect the way you score; overemphasizing certain areas of the body, and downplaying others.
Being as objective as possible will help reveal the truth behind your symptoms.
Let’s take a look at each system covered on the system questionnaire to give you a better understanding of what your symptoms mean from a functional medicine perspective.
Understanding your symptoms from a functional medicine perspective
Symptoms in the head commonly come in the form of headaches, faintness, and dizziness. These can be a sign of inflammation, food sensitivities, or some kind of nutrient deficiency. I always recommend treating chronic headaches with hydration first, before investigating some of these deeper causes.
Common symptoms of the nose include sinus infections, stuffy nose, sneezing attacks, and excess mucus. The first thing I think when I see a high score in this area is a sign of food sensitivities or immune system infections, both of which point to the gut. If you struggle with these symptoms, I first recommend removing dairy from your diet and seeing if you notice improvements.
Skin issues include acne, eczema, hives, dryness, excessive sweating, flushing, and even hair loss. In functional medicine, we believe that the skin is a mirror of the gut. And as someone who supports a lot of people with hives, I can confidently say that gut issues always come into play. These issues commonly take the form of food sensitivities, or food intolerances (there IS a difference) so I always recommend investigating that area first.
Issues like hair loss, and feeling cold all the time are often closely related to hormone health, more specifically the thyroid. Combat these issues by addressing things like chronic stress, toxicity in the body, and nutrient deficiencies, especially iron.
Mouth & Throat
If you think about it, the mouth and throat are really an extension of your gut. Not only does digestion begin in this area, but the mucosal lining in your mouth and throat is one of the first areas where your immune system starts to react to things.
Common symptoms in this area include sore throat, coughing, and chronic canker sores. If you struggle with these symptoms on a regular basis, you’ll need to investigate the mucosal lining in your mouth to understand why the immune system is being suppressed.
Heart health is most commonly associated with irregular or skipped heartbeats, or a rapid pounding heart rate. These two symptoms may be connected to hormone health and imbalances, such as what women experience during menopause. If you’re of the age where you’re experiencing menopause, I’d recommend balancing not just your sex hormones, but your adrenal and thyroid hormones as well.
Things like chronic stress, and toxicity in the body contribute to hormone health. Practice stress management techniques, incorporate more organic foods, and rid the home of toxic products to discourage the build-up of hormonal waste.
Like the mouth and throat, the lungs are another extension of your immune system. If you’re struggling with chest congestion, asthma, bronchitis, or shortness of breath, there’s likely an immune response happening in this area.
You could have an immune deficiency due to nutrient depletion, or an environmental factor is attacking your immune system. Either way, symptoms in the lungs are a sign that your immune system is struggling, which may take more investigative work to uncover.
Low energy is one of the most common symptoms I see in clients and that’s because fatigue is so multifactorial.
The first component of low energy is cellular health. Your mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of your cells, need the right kinds of nutrients to function. For that reason, nutrient deficiencies are one of the biggest culprits at play.
If nutrient deficiencies aren’t the issue, we would look towards the immune system. If your immune system is constantly being bombarded and on high alert, it makes sense that you’d feel tired.
Low energy could also be a hormonal issue. Think of your thyroid as your body’s engine. A build-up of stress and toxins can affect your thyroid’s function, leaving you feeling depleted.
Because there are so many factors that contribute to low energy, this symptom requires a lot of client/coach partnership in order to dive deep into the investigative work.
The number one thing affecting poor sleep is hormone health, more specifically melatonin. Interestingly enough, melatonin is made from serotonin, which is 90% produced in the gut. This is why there’s a strong connection between sleep and the gut.
Another hormone that plays a role in your sleep cycle is cortisol. Usually, when you fall asleep, cortisol production comes down (and should stay down!). Cortisol levels spike due to stress, blood sugar imbalances, or even liver toxicity.
Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to manage melatonin and cortisol production so you can finally find a regular sleep routine.
A lot of cognitive issues, even Parkinson’s and dementia, are related to inflammation in the brain. Again, this can be a result of nutrient deficiencies, poor gut health and toxicity.
Do you see a pattern emerging yet?
Much like sleep, there’s a very strong connection between the brain and the gut. In fact, the gut is often called the second brain because of the large number of neurons linking the two. These neurons send messages from the gut to the brain, which lends scientific credibility to the age-old saying “follow your gut.”
Simply put, if there’s inflammation in the gut, there’s likely inflammation in the brain. If you’re struggling with cognitive issues like memory loss, or brain fog, start with the gut and go from there.
Mood health, tightly linked to brain health, is a hormone issue commonly related to either estrogen or serotonin imbalance.
Ladies let’s face it, the kind of mood swings we’re burdened with as women tend to rise and fall with our menstrual cycles. Estrogen dominance can further exacerbate the issue when excess hormone waste builds up and gets recirculated throughout the body. This can lead to mood swings, painful periods, and many other debilitating symptoms.
Symptoms like anxiety and depression are more closely related to serotonin which is 90% produced in the gut. If your gut is inflamed, it can negatively impact your serotonin levels, making it hard for your brain to achieve balance.
It’s no surprise that most of the work I do with my clients is in the digestive area. By addressing the gut, we can knock out many other areas of the body. Whether you’re experiencing symptoms with your hormones, your immune system, or your cognition, the gut is most likely connected.
The gut is not only where you digest your food, but it’s where you absorb your nutrients. If you’re experiencing digestive issues, it’s very clear that you have gut work to do. I work with clients in this area by addressing things like leaky gut, SIBO, and dysbiosis so we can bring balance back to the microbiome.
Joint & Muscles
Symptoms in this area include joint and muscle pain, and arthritis, which are all underlying symptoms of inflammation. And when I see inflammation, I think leaky gut. (Yes, we’re back on the gut again!) This is because what’s happening in the gut can leak through the intestinal lining and cause havoc in the bloodstream.
Your bloodstream travels to areas of low circulation in your joints, where undigested proteins from the gut can trigger an inflammatory response, making leaky gut and poor nutrient absorption key to calming inflammation and arthritis.
Very often what I see with clients is that weight is the last thing to budge. And for this reason, I never talk about weight as a primary symptom, because it’s often a sign of other imbalances that need to be resolved first.
Think of excess weight as the body’s way of staying safe. We all have a survival instinct telling us to store fat during times of stress, or when the body’s under threat. Addressing things like inflammation, nutrient imbalances, and gut health allows the weight to naturally come off because the body feels safe again as balance is restored.
The area labelled “other” on the medical symptom questionnaire is a broad catch area for things like frequent urination (a blood sugar issue), frequent illness (an immune system dysfunction), genital itching (bacterial or fungal infections) and fibroids (an estrogen imbalance issue).
No matter which area of the body your symptoms lie, there are things you can do to get help and find relief because not doing anything is not a solution.
If you’d like more insight into what your symptoms are trying to tell you, I invite you to fill out your own symptom questionnaire and book a call with me so you can receive feedback on your results, and guidance on where to go next. We’ll discuss which challenges are holding you back from reclaiming your health, and the support you need to move forward.