I am so thrilled to be the newest health contributor for the Guardian newspaper! In my first piece for the Guardian, I discuss the key signs and symptoms that should prompt you to obtain immediate medical attention. When you start feeling sick, it can at times be confusing to determine if your symptoms are serious enough to see a doctor. Read on to find out the red flags that should have you headed to the doctor without delay!
(originally published on the Guardian)
We all sometimes experience moments when our bodies feel a tad bit off. Perhaps you may feel weaker than usual, experience some random body pain, or just have very nonspecific symptoms. During these times, it is best to be in tune with your body. It is never a good idea to ignore any of your symptoms hoping they will go away, as doing so often exacerbates any health problem.
While some people, unfortunately, choose to ignore their symptoms until it is far too late, others find it easier to simply blame any and every symptom they have on malaria and start treating for it. Though malaria still remains a leading cause of death in Nigeria, you should not always attribute all of your symptoms to the condition. It is quite a dangerous practice to automatically assume that it is the culprit whenever you have any health woes. This can cause you to miss other serious diagnoses that may actually be hurting your health.
How do you know exactly what symptoms are serious and warrant immediate medical attention? Well, if you are ever unsure of when to urgently seek help, then you must keep the following red flags in mind. These are symptoms that should prompt you to see a doctor without delay.
Shortness of breath: If you experience a sudden onset of difficulty in breathing, you must seek immediate medical attention. This symptom could be due to various conditions, but if your shortness of breath is accompanied by a fast-paced heart rate, pain in your chest upon inspiration, or coughing up of blood, then there is a higher suspicion for a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs). This is a medical emergency and it is one of the top conditions your doctor will want to rule out immediately in your work up.
Unexplained weight loss: Malignancy should be the first thing that comes to mind anytime anyone experiences an unexplained weight loss without even trying. Our bodies are designed such that if you decrease your caloric intake and increase your exercise activity, you will lose weight. When you have a sudden unexpected drop in your weight without making any changes to your diet or exercise regimen, there may be a cause for concern. Unexplained weight loss may point in the direction of a potential cancer. Other conditions to keep in mind include possible HIV infection, especially if you are someone that is having unprotected sex. Endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism may also cause such weight loss. Nonetheless, your doctor will complete the appropriate tests to determine the ethology of the weight loss.
Blood in your stool: Any significant change in your bowel habits should always raise concern. Blood in your stool is a red flag that something is not right with your gastrointestinal health. It may be indicative of a gastrointestinal bleed which definitely warrants immediate attention. The bleed can be due to such things as ulcer, haemorrhoids, or even colon cancer. It is up to your doctor to do the appropriate work up to figure out the underlying cause. This is a symptom that you should not be embarrassed about if it occurs, but rather it should signal you to seek medical help.
Chest pain: Severe chest pain is another symptom that simply cannot be overlooked. If you ever experience chest pain or pressure that radiates to your arms or jaw, or is associated with nausea or intense sweating, then you need to see a doctor immediately. Although chest pain does not always mean you are having a heart attack, it is one of the acute life-threatening conditions that certainly needs to be ruled out.
Severe headache: Everyone gets headaches from time to time. However, if you have a sudden onset of what feels like “the worst headache of my life,” that is a huge red flag to head to the hospital immediately. Doctors worry about a potential brain aneurysm when they hear this complaint from patients. Another serious condition of concern is meningitis, especially when the headache is accompanied by fever, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, or vomiting.
Here is the bottom line: Being aware of some of the red flags is key in helping you understand what symptoms may constitute a health emergency. If you are ever in doubt about the gravity of any symptom or have a health concern, then it is always best to get checked out by a physician to ensure that there is nothing life threatening going on.
Learn more at The Guardian