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Updated 19 February 2014

17 symptoms no one should ignore

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?

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Anyone who has ever tried to convince a reluctant husband to go to the doctor after he fell off a ladder, or has had chest pains for a week or is constantly nauseous, would know that visiting the doctor is not a favourite pastime of most men – or most people.

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.

Even if something is serious, like cancer, if it's caught early, so much more can be done to treat it properly, than when you arrive in the doctor's offices six months later after many sleepless nights.

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? And let's face it, it is your responsibility – whether you would rather walk over hot coals, is not the issue here.

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 more serious. 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 it may also be serious.

5. Fever. If your temperature fluctuates between high and normal for no discernable reason, find out what's wrong. If you run a fever fever for more than 3 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.

7. Chest pains. This could be as innocent as heartburn, but it could also 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. Menstrual problems or paralysis. A menstrual period that lasts more than ten days, or doesn't arrive at all, should not be ignored. Non-arrival could mean you're pregnant, or have fibroids or cysts on your ovaries. A period that overstays its welcome could mean many different things – point is, you should get to gynaecologist.

11. 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. It will not go away by itself and if left untreated, can ultimately become life-threatening.

12. Sudden muscle weakness. If you suddenly find you have difficulty standing, walking, 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.

13. Breathing difficulties. Sudden onset of breathing difficulties could signify many things – from asthma, to an allergic reaction, to name but two. It should be remembered that untreated asthma can kill. Breathing problems can quickly become life-threatening. Don't ignore it.

14. 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 a bladder infection.

15. 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 may be something benign like a mild infection or a pimple or boil, but then again, it may not. Do something about it.

16. 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.

17. 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.

 
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