The Covid pandemic caused us to make numerous changes in our lives. Vaccines brought a semblance of normality again. However, many of us are still wary of re-starting our previous routines and even simple things such as going out, still cause many people severe nervousness and anxiety. One thing in particular that has changed, is our growing reluctance to trouble our doctors with our own health concerns and warning signs of illness may be going unnoticed.
Over this last couple of years we have all developed a deep appreciation of the wonderful work our NHS staff have been doing here in the UK. Now we are easing our way out of the crisis, many of us don’t want to burden those same staff with extra pressure. However, many doctors are commenting that some of their patients are ignoring potentially serious symptoms which is of major concern.
Regardless of our age, sex or general state of health, we should always listen to our body and be on the look out for potential warning signs of illness. Even if we are wary about visiting our GP at the moment or there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done, we should not let busy lives make us ignore our health.
Whilst some conditions may make their appearance known with very distinct symptoms, others can manifest so slowly and gradually that the early warning signs can go undetected for a long time. This is the crux of the matter as whilst many diseases can be treated if they are caught early on, in the later stages they might be hard to tackle.
Unfortunately we are always going to be prone to occasional occurrences of upset stomachs, indigestion and aches and pains – particularly as we grow older – but the trick is learning what to ignore and what to take note of. If a serious illness or life-threatening condition is present, then early treatment always tends to steer you towards a better outcome.
Take a look at the list below and if you feel that you may be prone to any of these symptoms, either now or in the future, seeing a doctor quickly could make a real difference to the quality of your life and the length of it. Whilst our body is a complex machine, it usually send us signals of an illness when something is awry; all we have to do is look out for them and not be afraid of seeking expert advice.
Warning Signs of Illness We Should Not Ignore
- A long lasting persistent cough. By this we mean one that you have had for more than a month and which is not responding to any medication. If it is disturbing your sleep and affecting your daily routine then get it checked out. It could be due to one of many things such as asthma, lung cancer, tuberculosis, bronchitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease or just a really bad infection that needs antibiotics to clear it. If you are coughing up phlegm that is darkly coloured or has blood in it, seeing your doctor is a must-do.
- Spotting blood when you go to the toilet. Don’t immediately think ‘cancer’ if you see blood in your stool as this could be due to haemorrhoids or even stomach ulcers. Blood in the urine could be anything from kidney stones to a UTI or cancer. Your doctor will need to know how long you have been noticing it for and if it occurs at the beginning or end when you urinate.
- Wound that will not heal. Most cuts or injuries heal up naturally of their own accord but if you have one that isn’t, then seeing your doctor is a good idea. It should have completely healed within six weeks and if not, it could be the sign of an infection such as sepsis, diabetes or even poor circulation.
- Constant feeling of depression/sadness. We are not talking normal down-in-the-dumps or tears now and again but a constant feeling of low mood and anxiety, with possibly lack of energy, interest, concentration, and sleeping too much or not enough. Your weight may jump up if you comfort eat and even suicidal thoughts may enter your head. In this case, do not hope it will pass; talk to those close to you and see a doctor. Depression should never be regarded as something to be hidden or not talked about. Your GP will be able to help and also put you in touch with a specialist mental health practitioner or counsellor if required.
- Hitting the menopause but still bleeding. Once you have not seen a period for 12 months, they generally should not rear their heads again. If they do, this could be down to thinning vaginal tissue and lowered oestrogen levels. However, do get checked out just to ensure that some form of gynaecological cancer is not present.
- Constantly high temperature. Unless this is due to treatment that you are undergoing such as chemotherapy, a persistent fever, even a low one, should be checked out. If the fever is accompanied by other symptoms such as chills and feeling ill, always see a doctor as this could be your body’s way of saying that something is not right and may indicate a urinary tract infection, tuberculosis, lymphomas or reactions to certain drugs/medications. The majority of fevers are nothing to worry about but if you have had one for over two weeks, take action.
- Bowel habits changing. Anything that is not normal for you should be investigated. Diarrhoea that lasts more than 7 days, chronic constipation that makes you suffer for more than 2 weeks or any other unexplained changes need to be looked at and there can be many reasons for the issues that you are experiencing. Infections, side effects of food or medications, digestive disorders; all of these can cause changes. If you get blood in your stools, black stools, severe cramps in the abdomen or even sickness, colon cancer needs to be ruled out.
- Being out of breath. This does not mean due to you having a cold or if you have been exercising energetically, but if you wake up at night wheezing or find yourself unable to breathe properly at any time, seek medical help. Causes range from asthma (this can even develop as you age), bronchitis, pneumonia, panic attacks or blood clots in the lung. Even pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension could be the cause so never delay. GP clinics and hospitals will always treat you as an urgent case if your breathing is erratic or problematic and may be able to give instant relief by helping you to breathe with a nebuliser.
- Eating very little but feeling full. Often referred to as early satiety, this can be a sign of a range of gastrointestinal problems. It may be just indigestion or acid reflux or irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. But this can also be a sign of cancer in the stomach, ovaries or pancreas. If this feeling persists, you may also notice yourself feeling sick, experiencing pain in the abdomen or weight loss. Once again, make an appointment to see your doctor to rule out worrying illness.
- Joints that are swollen and hot. This can be a sign of a joint infection which will need to be treated by a doctor to get rid of the bacteria and stop it spreading. However, less serious causes may be arthritis or gout.
If you experience any of these warning signs of illness for more than a short time, do see a doctor. If you are still cautious, many doctors are now offering telephone consultations so this may be a way to get their expert opinion and ease your concerns.
Don’t think that you will be wasting their time as it makes their job much easier and safeguards your health if a serious illness is detected and treated early on. They will be able to identify the problem and if necessary, refer you to see a specialist. On the other hand, if nothing serious is wrong, you will have total peace of mind which is worth its weight in gold.
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