Symptoms that require doctor’s attention by Brewer
By Ujunwa Atueyi
It is that time of year when people are plagued by coughs, sneezes and often a headache or gut pain due to festive over indulgence. And while in most cases it will be just a minor ailment rearing its head, how do you know when your symptoms could be a sign of something more serious?
An expert, Dr. Sarah Brewer, in an article she published in Dailymail.com, says no one likes to consult a doctor unnecessarily, but there are times when you should always seek medical advice. It’s always better to be seen than dismiss the signs and delay an important diagnosis until the condition has become worse or it is even too late to treat.
She therefore explains how to spot when a niggle is actually a danger.
Weight loss for no apparent reason
Most of us love losing weight and if it’s achieved through sensible diet and lifestyle changes, then great.
What concerns medical professionals is unexplained weight loss – where there is no obvious reason for the pounds to be falling off someone, i.e. there has been no change to your normal diet or levels of activity.
As a rough guide, if you lose five percent of your body weight in less than six months without following a weight loss diet, then it’s time to let your doctor know – especially if it’s associated with fatigue, tiredness or other persistent niggling symptoms.
An unusual thickening or lump anywhere on the body
If you notice an unusual lump anywhere on your body, you should always tell a doctor. While a lump in areas such as the breast or scrotum is likely to send you promptly to the doctor, don’t ignore lumps elsewhere, either.
Chest pain can be caused by many conditions, some of which are serious (e.g. heart attack or a clot on the lung) and some not (e.g. spasm of tiny muscles between the ribs, or an inflammation of rib cartilage called costochondritis).
Sudden chest pain should always be taken seriously and medical assistance sought without delay.
A change in bowel habit
Many people feel embarrassed talking about their bowels with someone else, but it is a conversation that really could save your life.
Bowel cancer is one of the biggest killers and it’s striking more people at a younger age than ever, so don’t ignore a change in your bowel movements – it’s one of the few ways your intestines can show that something is wrong.
Unexpected blood loss from any part of the body
This is a frightening symptom that you are unlikely to ignore. You should let your doctor know as soon as possible if you: cough up blood (a possible sign of a blood clot on the lung or lung cancer); notice redness or dark flecks like coffee grounds in your vomit (a possible sign of bleeding in the stomach); pass black, unpleasant smelling stools vomit (a possible sign of bleeding in the intestines); develop bleeding in between your periods or after making love (a possible sign of cervical or womb bleeding – often due to a polyp but cancer needs to be ruled out).
Also let your doctor know if you have an episode of post-menopausal bleeding after you thought your periods had stopped (a possible sign of womb cancer); see blood in any fluid or discharge from any orifice (exit from the body) – a possible sign of tissue inflammation, e.g. from inflammatory bowel disease, but cancer needs to be ruled out.
Difficulty swallowing or feeling full despite eating very little
Problems with swallowing are commonly associated with sore throat or tonsillitis, but if you have persistent or increasing difficulty swallowing – with or without pain – tell your doctor. This can indicate a problem with the swallowing mechanism, throat, oesophagus (gullet) or stomach.
Let your doctor know you have difficulty swallowing so that other formulations (e.g. patches, liquids) can be prescribed.
A persistent, nagging cough or shortness of breath
At this time of the year it can seem as though you are never free from coughs and colds.
Most coughs clear up within three weeks and don’t require any treatment (although I recommend Pelargonium as the most effective treatment for coughs and colds if they do strike). If you suffer from a persistent, nagging cough or shortness of breath however, you should always tell a doctor so they can investigate the cause.
A cough is caused by irritation of the airways, while breathlessness suggests that your lungs are not working as well as they might – most likely due to asthma, COPD or other lung diseases or heart failure. Both symptoms need checking out – urgently if you also notice chest pain, cough up blood or lose weight/have a change in voice or notice a swelling in your neck.
Pain that keeps coming back
We all get aches and pains from time to time. But if you notice a recurrent pain that keeps coming back (e.g. for more than three weeks) or is getting more frequent or persistent (e.g. headaches, indigestion, abdominal pain, testicular ache or chest ache) you should always tell a doctor. This is especially important if you also have other related symptoms such as weight loss, tiredness all the time, lethargy or change in bowel habit.
A skin blemish that changes in any way or a scab, sore or ulcer that fails to heal within three weeks
Check your skin regularly for any blemish that seems to be changing – ask someone to examine your back and other places you cannot see yourself.
While in many cases, the lesions will turn out to be harmless, it can be difficult for even a doctor to know for certain whether or not a skin blemish is due to skin cancer until the patch has been biopsied and examined under a microscope. If diagnosed early, the majority of skin cancers can be removed and the problem cured.
Hoarse voice or sore throat lasting more than three weeks
A sore throat, often the result of a viral infection, which are common at this time of year, is usually nothing to worry about and disappears within about a week.
If it lasts longer, you should bring it to a doctor’s attention. A throat swab can check for bacterial infections (e.g. Strep sore throat) that needs antibiotics.
In some cases, a blood test may be needed to check for immune disorders (e.g. abnormal production of white blood cells) that can present with sore throat – especially if you also have swollen glands (to rule out bone marrow abnormalities, lymphoma, leukaemia).