When it comes to sound health and long life, no truer words have been said than “prevention is better than cure.” Since no one understands our bodies better than we do, it is important that we pay close attention to what our bodies say to us in the way of changes (sometimes subtle) and discomforts. While there are some ailments that we can treat ourselves — like minor aches and pains — certain symptoms tell us that we should seek medical attention right away. Some major ones one should pay close attention to include:
Unexplained weight loss: Although several factors can be responsible for weight loss, such as diet modification, exercising, age, certain medications and the likes, protracted weight loss when one is not trying to lose weight can be a sign of something wrong. “If you lose five per cent of your weight within six to 12 months without trying, especially if you’re an older adult, it is enough reason to see your doctor as soon as possible. It could be a symptom of an underlying disease or condition. Such diseases and conditions include cancer, HIV/AIDs, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and several other disorders,” Dr Irene Bassey, a medical practitioner said.
Sudden headaches: “Most headaches don’t require visiting a hospital as they could be linked to lack of sleep, poor posture, timing in a woman’s menstrual cycle, skipped meals, certain foods and alcohol. However, when headache comes on suddenly, with severe pain, vomiting, weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling, numbness or tingling, then it calls for a visit to the hospital. When one takes pain relievers for more than three days and the headache still persists, it could also be an indication that a hospital needs to be visited,” Dr Bassey said.
Experts say a sudden, severe headache could be a sign of a more serious, life-threatening condition such as an aneurysm or even a burst blood vessel which can cause brain damage within minutes. They add that there are also other possibilities such as meningitis or shingles.
Tenderness and pain in the back of the lower leg
Besides overworking the leg muscles during rigorous exercise, sometimes, tender pain in the back of the leg could be a symptom of a blood clot, medically called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. Experts say as many as two million people each year develop DVT, and many of them don’t even realise it until it threatens their lives.
Those who are at risk of developing DVT need to pay more attention to such tenderness. According to consultant cardiologist, Dr Abiodun Adeoye, those who are at risk of developing DVT include “anyone whose movement is restricted for long periods of time, including people who have been hospitalised or who are otherwise bedridden; people with lengthy travels either by road, sea or air or work long hours at a desk job. Sitting position that lasts more than four hours doubles the risk of developing DVT. It doesn’t matter if you go by air, bus, train, or car. When you’re in a cramped seat and don’t move around, your blood flow slows; people whose relations had medical history of DVT or pulmonary embolism have higher risk than those without. There may be background genetic disorders that make them prone to blood clot formation; advanced age (elderly people are more prone to DVT, as well as women in their post-menopausal years); weight problems, specifically obesity; smoking cigarettes; cancer patients; women who take hormonal birth control pills, including pregnant women and women in the immediate post-partum period (6-8 weeks after childbirth). That’s when they have higher levels of estrogen, which may make blood clot more easily. The pressure of their expanding uterus can slow blood flow in the veins as well.”
Commonest presentation of DVT, according to Dr Adeoye is swollen leg below the knee, red in fair skin or pain in the area of the clot. He says if you have these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately as if the clot moves to the lungs (pulmonary embolism), it can cause difficulty in breathing, low blood pressure, fainting, a faster heart rate, chest pain and coughing up blood.
Blood in the urine: If you notice bright red blood in your urine, or if your urine has turned red or brown because it has blood in it, it is a serious sign that one must not overlook. According to the United Kingdom’s NHS, blood in the urine could indicate a bladder infection (such as cystitis) – which typically also causes a burning pain when you urinate; a kidney infection – which may also cause a high temperature and pain in the side of your tummy; kidney stones – which may be painless, but can sometimes block one of the tubes coming from your kidneys and cause severe tummy pain; urethritis – inflammation of the tube that carries urine out of the body (urethra); it’s often caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia; an enlarged prostate gland – this is a common condition in older men and has nothing to do with prostate cancer. An enlarged prostate gland will press on the bladder and may also cause problems such as difficulty urinating and a frequent need to urinate; bladder cancer – this usually affects adults aged over 50 and can also cause you to urinate more often and more urgently, as well as pain when urinating; kidney cancer – this also usually affects adults aged over 50 and can cause persistent pain below your ribs and a lump in your tummy; prostate cancer – this is usually only seen in men aged over 50 and usually progresses very slowly; other symptoms can include needing to urinate more frequently and urgently, and difficulty emptying your bladder.
Chest pain: Chest pain or tightness is very serious and requires immediate medical attention as it is a common indicator of a heart attack. In fact, Dr Adeoye said “although symptoms of a heart attack differ slightly in men and women, the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort.”
Other causes can be a blood clot moving into the lung. Dr Adeoye adds that “if the chest feels tight, full or heavy and it lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back again, get medical help immediately. It is much more serious when it is accompanied by other symptoms such as pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort; breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.