Look Out for
Mehtab Ghazi Rahman
It's very surprising to see patients go to hospital with sinister health problems at a very late stage of their illness, only because they do not know whether their signs and symptoms are serious enough to warrant medical attention or not. The earlier a medical condition is diagnosed, the better the prognosis for its treatment.
A 'sudden' headache: If you are a person in your mid-40s or above and develop a sudden headache that comes on in a matter of seconds, which feels like someone has suddenly 'struck' your head with a hard object, you should immediately seek medical attention. A stroke or a rupture of a brain aneurysm (a permanently dilated blood vessel) usually presents as a sudden headache, often described by patients as the 'worst headache' they have ever had.
Change in your toilet habits: It is important to keep track of your bowel habits. Do not get too worried if you have diarrhoea for a few days; just ensure you drink plenty of fluids and juices during this time. However, if your diarrhoea lasts for more than a week or you have constipation lasting for more than a few weeks, it may warrant medical attention. Also keep an eye on the colour and nature of your stool. Dark stool or blood in your excrement is a worrying sign and you should never delay getting advise from a doctor if you have these symptoms.
Changes to existing moles: Most of us have moles in our bodies. We are lucky to have brown skin, as this reduces our chances of getting skin cancer, but does not eliminate it. As we grow older and become exposed to the harsh UV radiation, there is a small chance that our moles may become cancerous. It's easy to keep track of moles -- simply remember ABCD. If your mole is asymmetrical (A), has border irregularity (B), more than two colours (C) or a diameter bigger than a pencil-rubber, i.e., 6 mm (D), then you may wish to get it checked by your doctor. Keep an eye on your mole and check it's not growing, changing in size or bleeding.
Persistent Cough: If you have a cough lasting more than three weeks, then you need to be careful. Are you bringing out sputum or blood, or is it dry? Sputum in your cough suggests a chest infection or COPD, while blood can suggest a severe pulmonary problem. A chronic dry cough suggests asthma or gastric reflux. If you are bringing out pinkish watery fluid with your cough, you need to get yourself checked by a cardiologist.
Trouble with speaking or moving: If you have suddenly developed weakness in moving one side of your body, or someone has told you that your speech has changed or become incoherent lately, you need immediate medical attention as this may suggest a stroke. Some people who suffer a stroke may also have problems with vision. Sometimes, people complain of one-sided weakness that lasts for a day and then resolves by itself -- this is very worrying too, and is called a Transient Ischemic Attac (TIA), which is a mini-stroke. A TIA is a warning sign of a major stroke in the near future, so needs immediate attention.
Bleeding after menopause: The average age for menopause is 55, when women stop having periods. It is always worrying if a woman who has reached menopause starts bleeding again. Although slight bleeding following menopause may be due to hormonal changes that make vaginal tissue fragile, postmenopausal bleeding should never be ignored as this may suggest an underlying gynaecological cancer. Please visit your gynaecologist to seek help.
Unplanned Loss of Weight: If you are not on a diet and are eating well, but still seem to be losing weight, it is a cause of concern. Of course, one or two kilos is not a big deal, but if you find your clothes are getting loose for more than four weeks, you need to get yourself checked. Unexplained loss of weight may be due to thyroid problems, depression, malignancies or depression.
A Persistent Fever: A fever, whether high or low, that persists for more than a week needs to be brought to the attention of a doctor. The fever may be due to an infection, immune disorder or malignancy. If you have a sudden spiking temperature of more than 103 F, seek medical opinion as a matter of urgency.
Burning during urination: Burning during urination is a confirmatory sign of a urinary tract infection. A urinary tract infection is easy to treat with antibiotics, and needs to be treated quickly as you may easily pass it on to your partner. An untreated urinary tract infection can also cause irreversible damage to your kidneys in the long term.
Feeling full all the time: If you feel full all the time, even when you have not eaten much at all for more than two weeks, it could be a warning sign for a gastrointestinal problem such as a bad case of indigestion, or a more sinister problem, such as a stomach cancer. Some people generally have poor appetites, which is normal. However, if you have other symptoms such as weight loss, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting along with the feeling of fullness, it's a good idea to get a general check-up.
Keep these ten symptoms in mind and don't delay if you feel any of these points are relevant to you. Better to be safe now than to be sorry later. Your health is your most precious asset, so look after it well.
The author is a Graduate of the Human Bio-Medical Sciences from the University of London & a finalist student-doctor at St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine, UK.
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