5 Health Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

Not sure if a trip to the emergency room or doctor is in order? Read this article, it just might save your life.

potentially dangerous health symptoms_woman with bad headache

We all know the kind of symptoms that warrant a call to 9-11, like unconsciousness, choking and paralysis. It’s the less obvious health symptoms: bleeding, nausea and unexplained weight loss, for example, that keep us guessing whether a trip to the doctor, or ER, is really in order.

“Some people are in denial and don’t want to assume the worst,” explains Dr. Jonathan Kerr, a family physician at Belleville Queen’s University Family Medicine Centre in Belleville, Ont.

“But when it comes to our health, we don’t want to negate anything.”

Kerr adds that any odd health change, big or small, is worth getting checked out by your family physician. This is especially true for the following five particularly tricky’and potentially dangerous’symptoms.

1. The worst headache of your life

“We’re not talking about a typical headache or migraine pain,” says Kerr.

“We’re talking about the pain being a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale.” In this case, he explains, an aneurysm (a swollen, blood-filled vessel) may have ruptured in your brain.

The bleeding pushes brain tissue against the skull, causing incredible pain. Kerr points out that many people have aneurysms, but only a few will experience a rupture in their lifetime.

What to do: Head to your nearest emergency room as soon as possible, says Kerr. “You may need surgery.”

2. Bleeding, no matter how minor

There are four scenarios that are worrisome, says Kerr: bleeding from your rectum, coughing up blood, urinating blood and, for women, unusual bleeding from your vagina (especially post-menopause). In many cases, these situations are harmless.

“Often bleeding from the rectum can be as simple as hemorrhoids or an anal fissure, for example,” he explains. But Kerr adds that the goal is to head off more serious possibilities, which are colon cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer and endometrial cancer.

What to do: Book an appointment with your family physician as soon as possible.

3. The worst heartburn symptoms ever and/or shortness of breath

Any combination of sweating, heartburn, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath could be signs of a heart attack. The discomfort you feel is caused by a lack of oxygen reaching the heart muscle because a main artery is blocked.

Kerr says that not everyone will experience the classic heart attack symptoms: pain radiating into the jaw, or down the left (and sometimes the right) arm. Women in particular experience less telling symptoms.

“In fact, heart attacks symptom can be mixed up with anxiety attack symptoms,” adds Kerr.

What to do: Head straight to an emergency room for testing (and be sure to mention any family history of heart disease).

4. Unexplained, significant weight loss

“We’re not talking about a five-pound drop,” stresses Kerr. “We’re talking about losing 20 pounds over the last six months. That gets me worried.

The particular combination of significant, unexplained weight loss with a loss of appetite may be signs that your body is fighting cancer, he says.

“Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells that just keep replicating themselves over and over. That takes a lot of energy, a lot of food, and a lot of nutrition.”

Don’t panic though, adds Kerr, because there are other explanations, which should be screened for’including thyroid disease and depression.

What to do: Book an appointment with your family physician as soon as possible.

5. Sudden, extreme pain between your shoulder blades

This could be a sign of one of the most feared things in medicine, says Kerr: aortic dissection, a tear in the wall of the largest artery in the body (which originates from the heart).

While the condition can potentially become fatal very quickly, there is a window of time to get to a hospital for life-saving surgery. The pain is extremely sharp, adds Kerr, so you won’t mistake it for just a nagging muscle pain.

What to do: Go to a hospital emergency room right away.

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