7 symptoms signaling you need to go to the doctor

Navigating Healthcare

by Katrina T. Gordon, MD

Jun 30, 2018

Have you ever wondered: “Should I see my doctor for this?” You are not alone if you have ever asked yourself that question.

Sometimes it can be confusing to know when to call your doctor. Of course, you should see your primary care physician yearly for your annual check-up, but in between those visits, you may have some symptoms or issues that concern you.

Here are seven symptoms you should definitely see a doctor for.

Cold or flu symptoms lasting longer than seven days

Usually, a common cold peaks within the first three days of illness and then begins to improve, whereas the flu can last up to a week. You should see your doctor if your cold or flu symptoms are worsening or not improving, your cough lasts longer than two to three weeks or you have a fever that doesn’t go down. If you are having shortness of breath or large amounts of blood in your phlegm, you should be evaluated in the emergency department.

Severe headaches

Headaches are common and usually relieved by rest or over-the-counter medications. However, you should see your doctor if your headache does not improve with medication, becomes more severe or more frequent than usual, wakes you up at night or interferes with your daily activities.

If you develop fever, stiff neck, confusion, weakness or slurred speech along with a headache, you should immediately go to the emergency department.

Back pain  

Back pain usually resolves in about six to eight weeks and is relieved by medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). If your back pain becomes constant, the pain moves down one or both of your legs, or the pain comes with weakness or numbness of your leg, you should see your doctor.

Digestive issues

Some digestive symptoms are common, such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea or constipation. These symptoms are usually occasional, brief and resolve on their own. You should see your doctor if any of these symptoms won’t go away even with medication.

Other symptoms like trouble or painful swallowing, feeling food get stuck in your throat or chest, or stools that are black or bloody should also be evaluated by your doctor. You should go to the emergency department if you are having severe abdominal pain that won’t go away, vomiting blood or green bile, or having bowel movements with lots of blood.

Mental health issues

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. It is equally important to see your doctor If you experience sadness that won’t go away, extreme mood swings, excessive worry or anxiety, delusions, hallucinations or thoughts of wanting to harm yourself or others. If you have any serious intent or plan to harm yourself, you should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Emergency symptoms

If you experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, sudden weakness or numbness on one side of your face or body, or slurred speech, these could be signs of a heart attack or stroke. You should immediately call 911 or head to the nearest emergency department.

Other symptoms you shouldn’t ignore

Some other symptoms to seek medical attention that might be signs of a more serious illness include new or worsening fatigue that won’t go away, dizziness or lightheadedness, unexplained weight loss and leg or ankle swelling.

Also, remember if you are having symptoms that signal worsening of your existing chronic conditions such as wheezing or trouble breathing with asthma or COPD, you should see your doctor sooner or more frequently to help improve control of your illness.

In general, there are many minor conditions that can be managed at home, such as routine colds or stomach flu. But when in doubt, always call your doctor, or download the MyBSWHealth app and access virtual care from home.

Don’t have a primary care physician? Find one here.

About the Author

Katrina T. Gordon, MD, is a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Kyle. Book an appointment with Dr. Gordon today.

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