“It’ll be grand” – in Ireland, it’s a way of life.
But, when it comes to our health, the ‘it’ll be grand’ approach isn’t always the best one to take. Yes, of course, getting sick from time to time is just part of being human and thankfully some bed rest, patience and a couple of paracetamol will usually clear things up.
On rare occasions though, these little aches, pains and ailments can be a sign of something more serious. No one knows our bodies like we do, so often when something is really wrong, we can usually sense it with a bit of a gut feeling.
If you do feel like something in your body is just ‘off’ or unusual, see a doctor as soon as you possibly can.
Below are 10 of the most common medical symptoms which should never be ignored. These symptoms will not always be cause for immediate concern and may be easily explained in certain circumstances BUT it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
1. Weakness in your arms and legs
Sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, especially down one side of your body, could be an indication that you’re having a stroke.
Other symptoms of a stroke include your face drooping on one side, difficulty speaking and moving, blurred vision and confusion. If you believe you or someone near you is having a stroke, acting fast is imperative and you should call an ambulance immediately.
Other possible common causes: anaemia, cold and flu, chronic fatigue, low blood sugar, hyperthyroidism.
2. Chest pain
If you experience an extreme discomfort in your chest which feels like pressure or squeezing, get to hospital immediately. If it lasts for more than 15 minutes and is accompanied by pain running down your arm, a feeling of nausea, sweating and breathing problems, it could be a heart attack. Coronary heart disease and heart attacks cause around 15% of all deaths in Ireland every year, so chest pain should never be dismissed.
Other possible common causes: panic attack, strained muscle, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (where acid in the stomach enters the oesophagus), pneumonia.
3. Pain, swelling or warmth in your lower leg
Leg pain isn’t always something to worry about. It can be caused by many things, especially if you have been doing any strenuous exercise but in some cases it can be a symptom of deep vein thrombosis. DVT usually occurs in the calf muscle and can feel very tender, achy and warm. DVT is serious and requires immediate medical attention.
Other possible common causes: muscle strain, cramp, tendinitis, nerve damage.
4. Unusual bleeding
Any unexplained bleeding can be extremely alarming, especially if it is coming from an orifice or if it does not seem to be healing. If you are bleeding from the rectum or coughing and vomiting up blood, you should see a doctor immediately. Ulcers and colon cancer can cause rectal bleedding and oesophageal cancers can trigger blood when you cough.
Other possible common causes: cuts or abrasions; haemorrhoids (if from the rectum); kidney, bladder or urine infections (if in your urine); bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis (if coughing or vomiting blood).
5. Wheezing and shortness of breath
Becoming short of breath is something that happens to us all occasionally, especially if you’ve been doing something physical. However, if shortness of breath or wheezing is unexplained and sudden, it could be a sign of a blood clot or you could be having a heart attack or a stroke.
Other possible causes: panic attack, stress, anxiety, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia.
6. Unexplained weight loss
If you’ve been pounding it at the gym or trying out a new diet, a bit of weight loss is to be expected. However, if you’re not doing any of those things, and the number on the scales keeps dropping, you may need medical attention. Unexplained weight loss can be linked to certain cancers, such as colon cancer. It could also be a suggestion of serious gut or digestive problems or even diabetes.
Other possible common causes: hormonal imbalances and thyroid issues, stress, anxiety.
7. Sudden intense headache
Everyone gets a headache occasionally – most often these are tension headaches which are painful but can be relieved with over-the-counter medication. If, however, you experience what feels like the worst headache of your life and more blindingly painful than anything you’ve felt before, get to a doctor as soon as possible. A sudden and severe headache could be a sign that you’ve burst a blood vessel or had an aneurysm.
Other possible common causes: meningitis, shingles, migraines, hormonal headache, sinusitis.
8. Tummy trouble
Stomach pains aren’t all that unusual and can be caused by a multitude of factors. Most of us will be able to instinctively tell if the problem is serious or not by the intensity of the pain and if it seems to be improving over time. However, if your stomach pain is sudden and feels very severe, you should consider a swift trip to hospital. It can be a symptom of many issues; from gut disease and appendicitis to an aortic aneurysm or a hernia.
Other possible common causes: IBS, gallstones, food poisoning, diverticulitis (inflammation of the large intestine.)
9. Suicidal thoughts
Suicidal thoughts can be very confusing and disturbing but they should absolutely never be ignored under any circumstances. Whether you have been feeling down for a long period of time, or suddenly have the urge to harm yourself, you should speak to a medical professional at once. If you don’t feel like you can keep yourself safe, call an ambulance or go to A&E. Alternatively, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit a local crisis centre.
10. Vision changes
If your sight becomes blurry, if you start seeing flashes of light or if you lose vision entirely, seek help from a doctor as it could be a symptom of a serious vision-threatening eye disease or neurological disorder. Flashes of light could be a sign of a detached retina which needs immediate evaluation to prevent longterm sight loss.
Of course, this list is not all-inclusive, so if you have any other symptoms or pains causing you concern, you should see your doctor or make a hospital trip immediately.
Always listen to your body and know that doctors, GPs and nurses are there to help you.
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