Symptoms you should never ignore
By Jason Ramm, MD
Like red-light warnings on the dashboard, the human body sends out signals when there is a problem. Chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness are some familiar medical symptoms that people usually take seriously. But other aches and pains, lumps and bumps mean something too. The question is: when do these symptoms signal a serious problem?
It's a common misconception that if it doesn't hurt, you can just ignore the symptom. This can lead to serious consequences. All adults should pay attention to the changes in their body that could signal a medical problem.
The following are some of the more serious "red flags" of medical symptoms you should never ignore:
A sudden, agonizing headache
A sudden onset of head pain, more severe than any you have felt before, could mean you are bleeding in the brain. Go to an emergency room immediately. If you have a severe, crushing headache, you may have an aneurysm, which is a blood-filled pouch bulging out from a weak spot in the wall of a brain artery. If treated before it bursts, it could save your life. A brain aneurysm is rare, but it can happen, especially in people under age 40.
Headache accompanied by a stiff neck and fever
This is an indicator of a serious infection called meningitis.
In fact, if you can't put your chin on your chest, that's a sign you may have bacterial meningitis. You need antibiotics immediately to kill the bacteria before it infects and scars the brain.
Slurred speech, paralysis, weakness, tingling, burning pain, numbness, and confusion
These are all warning signs of a stroke, and you should seek emergency care immediately. Early treatment may prevent permanent damage to the brain or even save your life.
Unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite and/or weight gain
If you're on a diet, this is expected, but if you're eating the same way - and now have to adjust your belt a few notches tighter - you could have a serious problem. With ovarian cancer, the opposite is true. Fluid builds in the abdomen, and women think they are gaining weight. But if you have been at the same weight range for years, and doing nothing different, see a doctor.
Changes in bowel movements
Any blood noticed in a bowel movement should not be ignored. Black, tarry stools may indicate a hemorrhage from an ulcer of the stomach or the intestine. It is important to stop the bleeding and to rule out cancer as a cause.
A lump in your testicle with or without a small lump in the groin
This could be testicular cancer. Testicular cancer is more commonly found in testicles that did not naturally descend from the abdomen to the scrotum.
It's also important to know your own body and to be able to communicate with your doctor about any changes that concern you. You know yourself better than anyone else, even your doctor. If you feel something's not right with your body, you should always discuss this with your health care provider.