A headache, double vision, unexplained lumps, a persistent cough. When should you get to the doctor right away?
Most of us put off going to the doctor. Maybe we'll feel better tomorrow. We don't want to make a fuss. We don't want to be nagged again about our smoking or our weight.
In fact, going to the doctor is on many peoples' list of favourite activities - somewhere between painting the garage and banging their head hard several times on the low doorway of the outside shed.
But a doctor's visit could save your life. Early intervention in the case of a disease such as cancer, could make all the difference. It is simply better to bite the bullet and make that appointment, rather than lying awake for months and doing nothing about it.
But what are the symptoms that should make anyone sit up and take note? And more importantly, which symptoms should make you go to your GP that same day?
1. Constant coughing. If you've recently had flu, a cough will linger for a few days or even a few weeks. But if you have a cough which has moved in lock, stock and barrel, it's time to get to the doctor. It could be one of several things, from tuberculosis, a chest infection and lung cancer, to name but a few.
2. Rectal bleeding. If your stools are dark in colour and you become aware of the fact that you regularly bleed from the anus, make that appointment. It could be any of a number of things, from benign (bleeding piles) to serious (colon cancer), but don't take any chances.
3. Blinding headaches. Everyone gets headaches from time to time, but if you start missing work regularly and live on painkillers, the time for action has come. It could be as simple as getting different glasses, changing your diet/lifestyle, or it could be something more worrying. Best to get to the truth as soon as possible.
4. Vision problems. Everyone's vision deteriorates somewhat with age, but if your vision becomes blurry overnight, or changes in any other noticeable way, see an optician and a neurologist. It may be something insignificant, but then, it also may not be.
5. Fever. If your temperature fluctuates between high and normal for no discernable reason, find out what's wrong. If you run a fever for more than three days, visit your doctor.
6. Ongoing diarrhoea. Whether the result of food poisoning or a virus, diarrhoea is dangerous. And the longer it continues, the more dangerous it becomes, as it dehydrates you. If you regularly get diarrhoea, or if it carries on for more than two or three days, see the doctor. If your baby has diarrhoea, don't waste a day before you see your doctor/nurse. Do it immediately.
7. Chest pains. This could be as innocent as heartburn, but it could also be a signal that your heart is in trouble. If chest discomfort is accompanied by pains in your left arm, don't bother with the GP – get straight to the hospital's emergency room. You could be having a heart attack.
8. Night sweats. Sweating at night is not normal – it is often a symptom of tuberculosis, Aids or Hodgkin's disease, which is a lymphatic cancer. Do something about it.
9. Genital sores. These are usually a symptom of a sexually transmitted disease. They should not be ignored, as this disease can be passed on to others, regardless of what it might be doing to you.
10. New moles. Most people have moles somewhere on their bodies. If a mole changes its colour, shape or size, it could be turning nasty. Watch out for new moles. They will not go away by themselves if left untreated, and could become quite serious in the long run.
11. Sudden muscle weakness. If you suddenly find you have difficulty standing, walking, or balancing, or that muscles that were fine the day before have become weak and useless, get it checked out. It could be, among other things, Parkinson's disease or you may even have had a mild stroke. And yes, young people can have strokes too.
12. Breathing difficulties. Sudden onset of breathing difficulties could signify many things – from asthma, to an allergic reaction, to name but two. Breathing problems can quickly become life-threatening. Don't ignore them.
13. Constant urination. Everyone urinates a few times per day, but when you start getting up three or four times during the night to go to the toilet, something is wrong. It could be prostate problems or the onset of type 2 diabetes, or even just a bladder infection. Best make sure.
14. Bumps and lumps. Whether we're talking swollen glands or lumps under the skin, these should never be ignored. Better be safe than sorry. It could just be a mild infection or a pimple or boil, but then again, it may not. Check it out.
15. Chronic exhaustion. Between working nine-to-five and keeping the family going, most people are tired, and not surprisingly. But when you suddenly feel as if getting out of bed in the morning is a major undertaking, something could be wrong. It may be depression, or the exhaustion could be a symptom of other ailments.
16. Loss of interest in life. If you or family members suspect you may be depressed, why suffer unnecessarily? We are no longer in the fourteenth century and depression can be treated. Most people who commit suicide suffer from depression. Up those serotonin levels before you get to these levels of desperation.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated November 2012)