No one knows our bodies better than ourselves — so when something’s wrong, it doesn’t take long to notice. Paying attention to the way we feel and to new sensations or pains can be one of the most important tools in detecting and preventing many fatal conditions, like in detecting a heart attack. Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society writes, “You know your body best. When you see or feel something different or just feel ‘off’, pay attention. Don’t dismiss it.” While there are some ailments that we can solve ourselves — like minor aches and pains — certain symptoms tell us that we should seek medical attention right away. Neurosurgeon Dr. Keith L. Black writes, “The things that we doctors are most concerned about are new symptoms that develop quickly, rather than things that develop over a long period of time.” But how do we know which symptoms to be concerned about? When I saw this list of symptoms that I should never ignore, I knew that I’d definitely be paying attention for them. While this list should never take the place of medical advice, these are quick and easy indicators to know if something major might be wrong. This is some of the most important information I’ve seen in years – I’m so glad I know this now!
- Chest Pain
Chest pain is very serious and requires immediate medical attention. Pain or lingering tightness in the chest can be an indicator of a heart attack — but it could also be a sign of heart disease or even a blood clot. Dr. Shilpi Agarwal writes, “Any chest pain, especially accompanied by sweating, pressure, shortness of breath, or nausea, should be evaluated by a medical professional right away.” As with any symptom, chest pain does not automatically mean that something terrible is wrong. But in this case it is always better to be safe than sorry!
- Sudden Sever Headache
A sudden onset of extreme pain in your head, particularly if it feels worse than any headaches you’ve had before, is a strong indicator that you should see a doctor right away. These terrible headaches could be a sign of an aneurysm or even a burst blood vessel. There are also other possibilities such as meningitis or shingles. The Cleveland Clinic writes, “A sudden, severe headache could be a sign of a more serious, life-threatening condition. Up to six percent of the population could be living with an unruptured brain aneurysm.” As with the onset of any sudden symptom, seeking medical attention is always the smart move with a terrible, unexpected headache!
- Sudden Confusion
Sudden confusion or an inability to concentrate are actually extremely serious indicators that something is very wrong. Medical attention is definitely needed for confusion or a large change in personality. The strange behavior could be an indicator of a brain tumor, bleeding in the brain, or even a stroke. At the very least, it could be a sign of low blood sugar, dehydration, or an infection. Dr. David Bronson writes, “The mortality rate for severe confusion is pretty high. You have to figure out what’s going on.” If you see this change in behavior in yourself or someone else, it is definitely best to seek medical help as soon as possible!
- Sudden Weight Loss
Unexplained weight loss of five percent of your body or more over a relatively short period of time is a serious indicator that you should see a doctor. One of the biggest symptoms of several types of cancer is this type of weight loss, and it is important to catch it as quickly as possible. Other possibilities include diabetes, depression, and problems with your endocrine system. Dr. Julian Schink writes, “Colon cancer is commonly associated with unexplained weight loss.” While shedding a few pounds is not cause for concern, if you find yourself unsure of why you are losing weight, it is best to get things checked out!
- Flashes of Light
Seeing flashes of light, unexplained bright spots, or other oddities in your vision is certainly a reason to see your doctor. These flashes or the presence of a large amount of floaters in your vision could be a sign of a detached retina, which can quickly lead to permanent loss of vision. The National Cancer Institute writes that although these symptoms do not cause pain and may seem harmless, getting fast treatment can save your vision. In this case, while a flash of light may mean nothing, it is definitely better to be safe than sorry when dealing with your longterm vision!
- Persistent Fever
A persistent fever or one that is abnormally high certainly requires medical attention. As a fever indicates that your body is battling some kind of infection, a more serious fever indicates a more serious infection. Possibilities include meningitis, a urinary tract infection, or even some forms of cancer like lymphoma or leukemia. Dr. David Bronson writes, “Fever of 103 degrees and higher warrants a trip to the doctor — period.” And while the likelihood of cancer being the problem is low on the list, most of the potential causes require antibiotics, making a doctor’s visit extremely necessary!
- Shortness of Breath
There are many situations, such as extreme physical activity, that can cause you to be short of breath. But if you can’t catch your breath for an extended period of time, or if it is accompanied by chest pain, a fever, circulation issues, wheezing, or gasping, you should see a doctor right away. This inability to catch your breath could be a sign of a blood clot or pulmonary disease, both of which are extremely serious. Dr. Shilpi Agarwal writes, “Without urgent evaluation, breathing can quickly become labored, and it can be catastrophic if not evaluated and treated quickly.” While this shortness of breath could be a sign of severe anxiety or even asthma, it is better to seek medical attention right away to be sure!
- Swelling of Legs
Swollen legs mean that fluid is accumulating that shouldn’t be there, and it may be a sign of heart failure, thyroid problems, or even vein problems. And if it is accompanied by pain in the back of your lower leg, it could be an indication of a blood clot. In any case, you should seek medical attention. Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum writes, “If you flex your toes upward and it hurts, that’s also suggestive of a blood clot. But don’t rely on that. If it’s hot, red, and swollen on one side, go to the ER.” Regardless of what is causing the swelling, it is very important to have a doctor check things out right away!
- Sudden severe Abdominal Pain
Serious and sudden pain in your stomach is definitely an indication that you should see your doctor. This severe pain could be a sign of an aortic aneurysm or other blood flow issues. If it is accompanied by nausea and vomiting, it could be a sign of painful gallstones. Dr. Richard Desi writes, “If the aneurysm ruptures, the pain tends to be sudden and severe and typically centralized around the belly button.” While you should never panic, this symptom should be taken seriously and you should see a doctor right away!
- Constant Fatigue
Everybody feels tired some of the time, but if you are experiencing longterm fatigue and exhaustion, it could be a sign of something more serious like uterine or gastrointestinal cancer, hypothyroidism, anemia, or even depression. In any case, it is important to see a doctor. WebMD discusses hypothyroidism by saying, “When the gland is underactive and the metabolism functions too slowly, you may feel sluggish and put on weight.” Normal levels of tiredness shouldn’t be cause for alarm. But if you you can’t kick that fatigue no matter how much sleep you get, it is probably best to see a doctor to be safe!
- Pelvic Pain
Pain in the pelvis — whether sharp, dull, or sudden — should be checked out by your doctor right away. Pelvic pain could be a sign of appendicitis, a kidney infection, a nerve condition, or even a hernia. In the case of an injury, pelvic pain could mean a possible broken pelvis. Dr. Julian Schink writes, “Even if it’s just vague pain, it’s not supposed to hurt down there.” The list of possible causes for the pelvis is quite long, so it is probably better to be safe than sorry in this case!
- Excessive Urination
Everybody uses the bathroom, but if you find yourself having to go over and over again, it might be a sign that something is not right and that you should see your doctor. Excessive urination can be an indication that a mass is pressing on the bladder. These are often benign, but they should be tested right away. Dr. Julian Schink writes, “If you’re going to the bathroom more often, then a lightbulb should go off in your head that something’s not right.” While this isn’t necessarily a reason to run to the doctor in the middle of the night, it is serious enough that it is worth getting checked out sooner rather than later!