Everyone knows the “Call 911!” symptoms — abdominal pain, chest pain, etc. But there are other warning signs that, while they may not warrant a speedy trip to the emergency room, should quickly send you to your doctor. These signs and symptoms, according to experts, should always receive medical attention — pronto.
1. Shortness of Breath. If you’re short of breath or wheezing, and you haven’t been exercising, you may be in trouble. Anything from asthma, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to a blood clot in the lung can bring this on, and it needs to be evaluated quickly. Shortness of breath can also be caused by panic attacks brought on by intense anxiety, says the Mayo Clinic.
2. Flashes of light. Flashing lights may signal imminent retinal detachment, says allaboutvision.com. The sensation of flashing lights usually occurs in one eye, but it can be in both eyes at the same time. A shadow over a part of your vision, blurred vision, or the sudden appearance of many “floaters” may also signal an impending detachment. Immediate care may save your sight since a detached retina almost always causes blindness if not treated quickly. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association
found that 1 in 7 people who experience flashes will have a retinal tear or detachment.
3. Unexplained Weight Loss. Almost all of us would love to lose a lot of weight quickly and easily, but if you’re not really trying and all of a sudden you lose 5 percent of your weight in one month or 10 percent over a period of six months, call your doctor. It could mean anything from cancer or diabetes to liver disease, says the Mayo Clinic.
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4. Unexplained Changes in Bowel Habits. This is anything out of the ordinary, from sudden diarrhea that lasts a week to constipation that lasts for longer than three weeks, to bloody or black stools. Again, pick up the phone. You could have a bacterial infection, such as salmonella, or a virus. But you could also have inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer, and the sooner you are diagnosed, the better, says the American Cancer Society.
5. Persistent Fever. If you run a low-grade fever of just over 100 F for two weeks or longer, you may well have a hidden infection ranging from a urinary tract infection to tuberculosis, or even a malignant condition. A low-grade persistent fever is a warning sign of leukemia, says your-cancer-prevention-guide.com. Pick up the phone and make an appointment with your doctor. Also, if you develop a fever more than 104 F, see your doctor immediately.
6. New Headaches or More Severe Ones. Especially if you’re over 50, get quick medical attention if you get a sudden “thunderclap” headache or if you get a headache after a head injury that begins to get worse, says the Neurology Muscular Dystrophy and Neuropathy Institute. You should also react immediately to a headache that involves a fever, mental confusion, weakness, seizures, or any kind of numbness or difficulty with speech. These symptoms could signal anything from a stroke to a brain tumor.
7. Short-term loss of vision, speech, or control of movement. These are jump-on-your-horse-and-get-to-the-ER symptoms of a stroke. Minutes count. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of a stroke include:
• Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of your body
• Sudden blurring, dimming or loss of vision
• A sudden fall or unexplained unsteadiness or dizziness
• Sudden severe headache
8. Feeling stuffed but eating little. If the sensation of fullness lasts more than a week, but you aren't eating much, have a doctor check you out especially if the feeling is accompanied by nausea and vomiting. It could be the result of gastrointestinal disorders, or, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a problem with your gallbladder. But it could also indicate a more serious condition, such as pancreatic cancer or ovarian cancer.
9. Hot, red, swollen joints. While these could be symptoms of gout or arthritis or just an old injury flaring up after too much stress, hot, swollen joints could also be signs of an infection in the joint that may need emergency care to save it. Symptoms of swollen joints include deep, aching pain, and stiffness, according to WebMD. Call your doctor without delay.
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