On Your Health

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12 Medical Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

At times, it can be difficult to know whether your symptoms are a medical emergency or not. According to the American College of Physicians, these 12 symptoms require immediate medical attention.

Emergency symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure lasting 2 minutes or more
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness
  • Changes in vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion or changes in mental status, unusual behavior, difficulty walking
  • Any sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Severe or lasting vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Unusual abdominal pain

While these 12 symptoms are serious, they do not represent every medical emergency.

More emergency symptoms

Additional symptoms or conditions requiring emergency care include:

  • Poisoning
  • Drug overdose
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Major burn
  • Spinal, head, or brain injury
  • Severe allergic reaction

Symptoms to report

Other medical symptoms that may not require emergent treatment, still need to be seen by your health care provider. The following are examples of some of these symptoms.

Blood in the urine

Although it may indicate a simple bladder infection, this symptom could also mean something more serious like a kidney stone or even a malignancy. To find out what's going on, your health care provider may order a series of tests. These could include urinalysis and blood tests, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Urinalysis examines the urine for red blood cells, as well as white blood cells. These are signs of a urinary tract infection. Casts may also be found. They are clumps of cells that are signs of kidney disease. Other tests like X-rays, ultrasounds, or even cystoscopic exams may be necessary. A cystoscopic exam involves looking inside the bladder with a very small tube.

Rectal bleeding

Blood in the stool could be from hemorrhoids, or it could be caused by an active ulcer or colon cancer. Bright-red blood indicates active bleeding. If there's a lot of blood, it could be life threatening. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If the amount of blood is small, you can usually be evaluated in the health care provider's office, but call your health care provider right away for advice. Simple tests can discover the presence of blood in the stool and estimate how much you're losing. If tests confirm bleeding, an endoscopy, colonoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy will let the health care provider see what's going on.

Unusual sores, lumps or lesions

These symptoms usually are benign, but you should have them checked by a health care provider. If you live in a sunny climate or if you spend a lot of time outside, you should be especially suspicious of all kinds of skin lesions. These may be signs of skin cancer. Look for sores that always seem to be irritated or moles that change size, have irregular shapes, or change color.