A doctor I worked with once said to me “if everyone gave up smoking I’d be out of a job”. That’s not strictly true, however, because even though the smoking rate has gone down since awareness campaigns and Government restrictions on the sale of cigarettes, there are still other risk factors that can predispose us to disease like hereditary factors, lifestyle, age and sex, environmental factors and socioeconomic status. We can’t do much about our hereditary factors, age or sex, but we can control our lifestyle, environment and socioeconomic status to a certain degree.
Another thing we can control is our awareness of signs and symptoms that could warrant a trip to the doctor, such as:
- changes in bowel or bladder habits
- shortness of breath, wheeziness
- a cough that produces yellow or green sputum, or is blood tinged
- chest tightness or pain
- spots that have changed on your skin
- lumps and bumps
- bleeding, e.g in your urine or faeces, or a wound
- hoarse voice or difficulty swallowing
- dizziness or fainting
- pain not controlled with over the counter medications
- weakness in a limb, especially when it’s down one side of your body and you also have a drooping mouth
- very high fevers, 38 degrees C or above
- discharge or oozing, especially when it has a strong odour
- a cut or sore that won’t heal
- severe thirst but still have a dry mouth
- unexpected weight loss and loss of appetite over a period of time
- snoring and breath holding at night, and still feeling exhausted during the day
- changes in your vision, crustiness in your eyes, or red and painful eyes
- yellowing of skin and eyes
- palpitations or fluttering in your chest
- fractures or sprains
- severe vomiting
- confusion or mood changes
- reactions to medications or treatment
- Knocks to the head, especially ones where you lose conciousness or see stars, or are confused afterwards
- epileptic fits
This list is only a sample of things to watch out for. Some of these are medical emergencies – don’t hesitate to call an ambulance if you have chest pain, weakness down one side of the body, severe bleeding and serious accidents. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, make sure you are informed of what signs and symptoms to look for, and when to see your doctor for follow-up appointments.
I’ve been a Registered Nurse for over 30 years and unfortunately many of the patients I see have a “head in the sand” approach to health. They are aware of signs and symptoms, but they’re too scared to go to the doctor so they leave it too late. Many of the diseases we see can be cured if they’re diagnosed and treated early enough, but because the person is too scared to see a doctor, it is too late to do anything about it. Unfortunately we also see patients who have been fobbed off or treated for the wrong thing as well. If you’re not happy with what you’re told by one doctor, seek another opinion.
You are the best advocate for your own health so keep in tune with your body and don’t ignore signs that there’s something wrong.
I have worked in Plastics and Reconstructive surgery wards for many years and even then I have a personal example of mis-diagnosis with skin cancer. Because I am aware of the risks of skin cancer I have had a yearly skin check for at least the last 20 years. My sons have had the same checks since they were small children. This is partly due to the high incidence of melanoma in my family (my brother and sister) but also because of seeing the effects of melanoma spread in patients.
I was on holiday in New Zealand and my son phoned me to say he’d had his skin check and the doctor had biopsied a spot on the back of his hand and it had come back as melanoma. It’s hard to convey how devastated I was at hearing this and not being at home to support him. He was only 24 at the time and we’d been going to the same skin doctor for years. This doctor had told him at least twice before that the spot was fine, and we had trusted him. This time it was a different doctor – we had recently moved to a new surgery.
If my son had left it for another year it would have spread. We were lucky it was Grade 1 and hadn’t spread at all. I phoned one of the Plastic Surgeons I worked with and made an urgent appointment and my son was in surgery the following week. He had to have a full thickness flap done, about 3cm in diameter, to his hand but he’s cancer free which is the best outcome we could have had. He’s proud to show his scar because he’s a survivor and he’s brought awareness to many of his friends and acquaintances about the need for skin checks. We both have to have 6 monthly skin checks now for the rest of our lives.
My message today is that I want you to see a doctor if you’re concerned about anything, but keep pushing for more if you’re not happy with what they tell you. That niggling feeling that something isn’t right should not be ignored so pay attention to your body!
Note: this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be substituted for professional advice from a Registered Medical Practitioner. Please see the full disclaimer statement by clicking on the heading Disclaimer on the Home page. I am unable to answer specific questions from readers – if you are concerned, please see your doctor.