Nurses' Health Secrets

Nurses are the backbone of the medical system. Not only are they on the frontlines of administering and evaluating your treatment, but they are essential to each and every process and procedure that occurs behind the scenes, whether it’s in a hospital or your primary-care provider’s office. Get the inside scoop on getting the best care possible with these tips, courtesy of Sharecare.

Nurses can provide a wealth of information to patients and their families. Here, a panel of expert nurses give you insider information on receiving the best care from your doctor, getting the most out of every medical visit, and being and smart and effective patient. For more on what nurses want you to know, visit

1. Explore alternatives to cover the cost of your medications.

“If you cannot afford to pay for your prescriptions, please tell someone (MD, RN or pharmacist). They will help explore your options – there are options." - Marianne Spurgeon, RN

2. Recovering from a heart attack is more than just physical.

“If you have just found out you have heart disease and are recovering from a heart attack, give yourself time to recover. With today's technology and medications, many patients can recover physically from a heart attack quickly.

Recovering emotionally is also important. Most people go through a normal grieving process when they suffer a ‘loss of health.’ You may feel angry or blue after a heart attack. This is normal. Allow yourself some time to adjust to your new medications and your new image as a person with heart disease. A simple, regular walking program can help you recover and feel better.

It is common for a family member to want to ‘hover’ over a loved one when that loved one has had a heart attack. Sometimes, when this happens, the loved one can feel smothered. If you are trying to limit the loved one's activity, they may feel useless and helpless. The nurse and physicians caring for a patient with a heart attack will generally give you guidelines for the resumption of activity, including sexual activity. It is important to communicate to your loved ones that you are there to support him/her, but trust that they will take care of themselves.” - Linda Martinez RN, ACNS-BC, CMC

3. Know what's triggering your migraines.

“Headaches affect most people from time to time, but for some people who suffer from migraines, headaches can be debilitating. Common foods can be triggers; if you suffer from migraines, you should learn what can bring on a headache for you. Keep a headache diary and know how food affects your head. Most migraineurs cannot eat cheese, raw onions, chocolate, red wine, processed meat or caffeine without getting a headache later on.” - Dr. Lisa Wright Eichelberger, RN, DSN

4. Tell your doctor the whole story.

“Your doctor is a lot like your therapist. He or she can only help you if you give him/her all the pieces of information. If you only give your doctor one piece at a time, it will make it difficult for them to solve the puzzle. The pieces that you withhold, either because they are personal or embarrassing, may be the key pieces of information the doctor needs to determine the appropriate path of treatment for you.”
- Juliet Wilkinson, RN, BSN

5. Allergic reactions can develop at any time.

"Some medications, such as antibiotics, have a higher incidence of allergic reactions. It is important to be aware of possible signs of an allergic reaction, which may include: hives, difficulty swallowing and breathing, chest pain and dizziness. If you suspect an allergic reaction, you should stop taking the medication and seek immediate medical assistance.”-Deborah Hunt, PhD, RN

6. Snoring is a red flag.

“Snoring is not normal! Neither is being sleepy or tired all the time. It could be a sign of a serious disorder called obstructive sleep apnea. Get checked out. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you could be saving your life by getting and using the treatment.” - Beth Rodgers, PHD, RN FAAN

7. Keep your medications organized and have a list with you at all times.

“Keep a list of your medications that you take with you in your purse or in your wallet. When you see the doctor or are admitted to the hospital, be sure the doctor or nurse makes a copy of your list and puts it in your medical record. Always ask for a list of your medicines that you are prescribed upon discharge from the hospital. Ask what the medicine is, what it does, what side effects it may produce, and any special instructions. Ask for this information in writing as well as in discussion.”
-Candy Rouse RNC, MSN, CNS-BC

To make it easier on you and your doctors, print out this wallet card, write down medication names and doses, and keep it with you.

8. Be prepared for your next medical visit.

“Write down your questions before you visit your health-care provider. People often get nervous when they are in the provider's office. When you are stressed, it is hard to think of the questions that were on your mind. Once you leave the office and your stress is relieved, the questions you wished you had asked pop into your mind. 

If you are nervous about a health visit, especially when you are about to receive test results, a diagnosis or treatment options, be sure to bring a trusted person with you; they can listen to what the health-care provider says and even take notes. When your emotions are stressed, it is hard to hear or remember clearly what the provider discussed with you. You will appreciate having the notes to refer back to later.”
-Aila Accad RN, MSN

9. Preventing the spread of germs is simple.

“Handwashing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of germs. You need to wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day and encourage your children to do the same. Hand sanitizers are okay to use, but handwashing with warm water and soap for at least 15 seconds is the best. It is important to dry hands thoroughly and use moisturizers to prevent chapping.”
- Deborah Hunt, PhD, RN 


10. Understand genetic testing and what it may mean for you.

“Genetic testing is becoming readily available to determine if an individual has a hereditary risk for developing specific cancers. There are many considerations when deciding whether to have genetic testing, including possible outcomes of testing and the recommended strategies for management, especially when one tests positive, such as insurance cost concerns, the impact on family relationships, and possible psychological distress. 

Anyone considering genetic testing should see a certified genetics counselor, an advance practice nurse with a genetics credential, or a physician with board certification in genetics. Credentialed genetics professionals are trained to select the most appropriate test, interpret results, provide management recommendations, and coordinate follow-up care for the entire family.” -Suzanne Mahon RN, DNSc, AOCN, APNG

11. Dieting smarter is as easy as opening your eyes.

“When reading labels for calories and fat content, be sure to note the serving size.”
- Patricia Thompson EdD, RN, FAAN


12. The dangers of smoking do apply to you.

“Stop smoking if you smoke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke result in over 400,000 premature deaths and nearly $200 billion in health-care costs annually in the United States. Tobacco use increases the risk of cancer of the lung, mouth, nasal cavities, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder and cervix.

An estimated 30% of cancer deaths, including 87% of lung cancer deaths, can be attributed to tobacco. If you smoke, it is important to quit because it will not only decrease your risk of developing cancer but increase your sense of well-being, improve lung function and circulation, as well as cardiac health."
-Suzanne Mahon RN, DNSc, AOCN, APNG


13. Watch for drug and diet interactions.

“Know that your diet could affect the medications that you take. Please ask to see a registered dietitian if there are dietary considerations that you may need help with. (One example would be anticoagulant medications and vitamin K.)” - Marianne Spurgeon, RN


14. There's a right way to do your research.

“The best thing you can do for yourself and loved ones in a time of stress or illness is to become an advocate of health knowledge. Refrain from spending hours on the Internet, researching ‘for-profit’ sites that may only add to your stress. Make sure your research time is well spent by viewing Internet sites with peer-reviewed knowledge. Sites administrated by government entities, physicians and nurses are your best bet for reliable educational health guidance.”- Juliet Wilkinson, RN, BSN


15. Speak up for a more comfortable examination.

“It is perfectly acceptable to ask your nurse or physician to wash their hands first before examining you.”
-Deb Cordes MSN, RN

16. Always finish the full course of your prescribed medication.

“If you are prescribed an antibiotic medication for an infection it is important to complete all the medication even if you are feeling better. If you don't, you risk becoming ill again, and, the next time, it may be harder to treat because you have built up a resistance to the medication.” -Deborah Hunt, PhD, RN


17. Don't ignore your cancer risk factors.

“The importance of understanding your risk factors for a particular cancer is often underestimated. It is important to discuss your risk factors with your primary health-care provider, and make efforts to decrease any risk factors you can. If risk is significantly elevated, there should be consideration to modifying the general recommendations for the early detection of cancer; the recommendations are designed for those with an average risk.” -Suzanne Mahon RN, DNSc, AOCN, APNG


18. Don't complicate exercise.

“There are 1,440 minutes in every day. Please schedule 30 of them for physical activity. Walk, walk, walk!” -Marianne Spurgeon, RN

19. Ask questions to familiarize yourself with a hospital's care structure. 

"The family [of a patient] should learn the ‘structure’ of a nursing unit: Who is responsible for what and to whom do they go to get further information? What is the nurse’s name who is primarily responsible for my family member’s care? Who else will be taking care of my family member? What their names and roles? If I have a question about my family member’s care, who is the head nurse and how can I contact that person? The patient and family should use the chain of command if they feel they or their family member's needs are not being met.” - Elizabeth Carlson PhD, RN


20. Laughter may just be the best medicine.

“Stress increases cortisol, which increases our susceptibility to disease by negatively affecting our immune system. One way to decrease feelings of stress that is quick and free is to add humor into our lives. A good belly laugh a day might be better than an apple at keeping the doctor away.”

-Enid A. Schwartz, RN, PhD


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