Color Coding Symptoms

“Where did this symptom come from”??? Raise your hand if you have thought this in the last week… maybe even yesterday or today!...

When I was growing up I rarely went to the doctor outside the annual checkup and dental cleaning. I rarely got sick (except for the occasional ear infection) and was not on any medications. I was lucky that I was so healthy. Too bad toasting my good health didn’t work!

The typical RA symptoms

Since my diagnosis in 2010 I see my rheumatologist regularly and a smattering of specialists for good measure. However, I rarely see my primary care provider (PCP) or those latter doctors because I figure any side effect or symptom is due to my Rheumatoid Arthritis, more specifically the Prednisone. (No, this is not a sequel to my steroid article a few months ago!) The motto of my life (aside from “embrace the nap” and “sloth on hypnotics”) is “blame the prednisone” because usually the Prednisone is to blame: weight gain, acne, insomnia, anxiety, dry mouth and eyes, etc…Increased appetite? It’s the Pred, sore tongue…yeah, the steroids.

But what about the other symptoms like anemia or balance issues or even nausea?
I mean, I could blame it on the Prednisone or the RA but my guess is these are brought on by something else.

"Organizing" my symptoms

I am an “organized” person. I make lists and color code my notes. I use Post-Its like they’re going out of style. I keep multiple journals and charts and yes, one of them is a symptom tracker. It’s great for finding patterns based on day and/or activities but it doesn’t necessarily tell me where the symptom comes from. Do you know what I mean?

The problem with a lot of my symptoms is they overlap with one another. One day I’m nauseous because I didn’t eat enough with my medications. The next I’m nauseous because the Methotrexate messed with my period and it’s irregular. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could further classify my symptoms and say “this neon pink is menstrual nausea and nothing to worry about” or “this type of nausea is bright fuchsia and actually indicate an ulcer: RED ALERT”.

Often times I feel a different type of stiffness in my joints depending on a variety of factors. Instead of just ticking off the box “pain” which could mean anything really. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tab further and say “This blue with neon orange polka dot pain means I climbed too hard and I accidentally PO-ed my fingers” or better yet, “this wavy pale yellow over a puke green base means I am about to derail into a massive flare: START YOUR FLARE ACTION PLAN”.

“What’s wrong?”

“I feel bad.”


“I don’t know! I just do!”


“Do you think if I knew I’d let myself feel this way??”

Life would be so much simpler if I could keep a binder with inserts, colors and patterns that identified each symptom. Even a simple Venn Diagram with a small assortment of ailments is better than shooting blind with 10 or 15 possibilities. But, alas, Rheumatoid Disease (any chronic illness, for that matter) is not easy and with all the other issues we deal with it makes sense that trying to figure out my ills is just as hard.

Truth is, the only thing I can do is run to my doctor and yelp “HELP!” Hopefully, we can figure out the causes together and nip them in the bud.

Do you keep track of your symptoms? How? Let me know in the comments!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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