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Health & Exercise Forum

Some Symptoms Should Not be Ignored

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Jan 25, 2022

The body is beautifully designed to constantly change and make adjustments to maintain homeostasis...a healthy place where all systems work together in perfect equilibrium. However, when things are not working as planned, your body is also designed to give you feedback. Sometimes the feedback is benign (like a stomach ache from eating too much), while other times the feedback is important and should not be ignored (like severe lower right-sided abdominal pain that makes you nauseous or vomit). When calling your physician or reporting to the emergency department with a problem, try to be clear and concise (when symptoms began, the degree of pain from 1 to 10, and bring a medication and allergy list with your medical history).

The following list are some of the symptoms that should not be ignored:

Chest Pain:

While chest pain can be from many benign causes such as a pulled muscle from heavy lifting it can also be more serious. A dull ache, sharp stabbing pain, crushing or burning sensation, especially when associated with radiating pain to the neck, jaw and left shoulder can be a sign of a heart attack and should not be ignored. If the symptoms fail to subside after 5 minutes of rest, call 911 or have someone take you to the closest emergency department.

Speech or Vision Loss:

Sudden slurred speech and or blurred vision often associated with weakness in an arm or leg can be a sign of a stroke. These signs can also be associated with intoxication from alcohol or drugs. Call 911 or have someone take you to the closest emergency department.

Severe Abdominal Pain:

Abdominal pain can occur for many non emergency reasons; constipation, gas, overeating, stress or muscle strain. However, if the pain is associated with nausea, fever, bloody stools, difficulty breathing, and vomiting blood, than it may be related to a much more serious problem such as appendicitis. Other causes include: irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal disease, gastritis, or hernia. Consult your physician immediately or get to an emergency department.  

Unexplained Weight Loss:

Losing weight is the most common health and wellness goal. However, when weight loss of 10 or more pounds in 4 to 6 months is not associated with conscious dieting, it may be a sign of a much more serious problem...consult your doctor.

According to the Mayo Clinic, an unexplained drop in weight could be caused by various conditions —including overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), diabetes, depression, liver disease, cancer or disorders that interfere with how your body absorbs nutrients (malabsorption disorders).

Persistent or High Fever:

A fever is often a normal response when your body is fighting infection and usually not a cause for alarm. However, persistent fever can signal a hidden infection, which could be anything from a urinary tract infection to tuberculosis. In some cases, cancerous (malignant) conditions, such as lymphomas , cause prolonged or persistent fevers, as can some medications.Call your doctor if your temperature is 103 F (39.4 C) or higher or you've had a fever for more than three days.

Shortness of Breath:

There are many non-serious reasons for shortness of breath such as; very strenuous exercise, extreme temperatures, massive obesity and high altitude all can cause shortness of breath. However, it can also be a sign of a medical problem. If you have unexplained shortness of breath, especially if it comes on suddenly and is severe, seek emergency medical care.

Mayo Clinic lists the following medical causes for breathlessness: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism), as well as other heart and lung problems. Difficulty breathing can also occur with a panic attack — a sudden episode of intense anxiety that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.

Unexplained Changes in Bowel Habits:

Consult your doctor if you notice unusual or unexplained changes in your stool (relative to what is normal for you). Some serious signs are: bloody, black or tarry-colored stools, persistent diarrhea or constipation, and unexplained urges to have a bowel movement.

Changes in bowel habits could signal a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection. Other possible causes include irritable bowel disease and colon cancer.

Confusion or Personality Changes:

Confusion and personality changes could be caused by many problems, including infection, poor nutrition, mental health conditions or medications. However, seek medical attention if you have sudden: poor thinking skills, difficulty focusing, sustaining or shifting attention, or behavior changes.

Unexplained Full Sensation in Your Stomach:

If you notice that you consistently have a sensation of fullness in your stomach, even though you have been eating less than usual, get checked by your doctor. This sensation is called early satiety. Early satiety can be associated with nausea, vomiting, bloating or weight loss. Experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend that you consult with your doctor about the possible causes of early satiety including; gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD, and peptic ulcers. In some cases, a more serious problem, such as pancreatic cancer, could be a factor.

Seeing Flashes of Light:

If you see very bright and sudden flashes of light or bright spots it could be a sign of a serious problem with your eyes. While these symptoms are often associated with severe migraines, it can also be a sign of a more serious eye problem called a detached retina. If so, it requires immediate medical care can help prevent permanent vision loss.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, NIH – National Institute on Aging

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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor  in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.

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