Many of us put off seeing our doctor with some thing that feels trivial. But sometimes those seemingly little niggles can be a sign of something more worrying. Here Dr Gill Jenkins, GP tells us which symptoms we should never ignore.
Unexpected weight loss:
For most of us, dropping a few pounds without trying would be a welcome surprise, but few people spend time wondering why they’ve suddenly lost weight. Dr Jenkins warns that sudden weight loss should count as a warning that something is wrong. She says, “While simply being busy, more active or changing eating patterns could explain it, there are more serious chronic illnesses, such as coeliac disease or an overactive thyroid gland, that need ruling out first.”
See your GP who will test for thyroid problems as well as cancers that can cause weight loss in later stages.
Bleeding after the menopause:
“Embarrassed as you may be to go to your doctor about it, bleeding of any sort after the menopause, even just spotting, has serious implications and needs assessment,” says Dr Jenkins.
First, your GP will want to consider an infection or any tears in the vaginal wall.”However there’s a possibility it could be uterine or another type of gynaecological cancer. Your GP should send you for an ultrasound, or refer you to a specialist to rule out tumours or endometrial hyperplasia, a thickening of the lining of the womb. Endometrial hyperplasia can lead to womb cancer,” she adds.
Discomfort in the jaw: Most probably this is just tonsillitis or a dental infection, but it’s always best to get it checked out just in case. Dr Jenkins says, “Indigestion can also cause acid reflux up into the throat, which will lead to pain in that area, and we can’t rule out angina or heart disease. The lack of oxygen to the heart can cause chest or jaw pains so these cannot be ignored.”
If you have any other symptoms, such as breathlessness, tiredness, swollen ankles, vomiting blood or weight loss, see your GP immediately .
A bloated stomach:
For most people under 40 this is most likely to be caused by anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome or a poor diet, according to Dr Jenkins. She says, “Generally if you have constipation or diarrhoea, feel anxious, have problems with wind or suffer from indigestion, then those would be the most likely culprits. But if none of those symptoms apply, and you still have swelling, then it could be a serious condition, such as ovarian cancer. This often doesn’t show until late as the only symptom may be your tummy getting bigger. Anyone with a family history of ovarian or breast cancer should see their GP quickly.”
If you feel con stantly sapped of energy, then alarm bells should ring. It could be an iron deficiency, so Dr Jenkins advises eating more red meat, pulses and beans. But heart or lung problems can also cause fatigue because the organs and muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen. She says, “Other causes like anaemia, low vita min D levels, thyroid problems or chronic fatigue syndrome are common too, so see your GP.”
“Dizziness is a very vague symptom and hard to track,” says Dr Jenkins. “That means many people ignore it, so we have to look for other clues.
For example, if a patient is also experiencing sensations like pal pitations and breathlessness it could be heart disease .”
Other causes include middle ear problems or labyrinthitis, a reaction to medications, anaemia or even osteoarthritis in the neck.
A sore that won’t heal:
“People often ignore what may look like a chronic spot, but you should always beware of unhealed sores because they are not necessarily trivial. Skin can cers, such as melanomas or car cinomas, often start like this,” says Dr Jenkins. Other causes can be a poor immune system or diseases such as diabetes that affect the blood supply . “If you have diabetes or are overweight and have a sore that won’t heal, especially on your foot, see a GP,” she adds. “Don’t risk it spreading, or in the case of diabetic foot ulcers, ending up with an amputation.”
Lots of people baulk at going to their doctor with constipation, but don’t let embarrassment put you off. “Any changes in bowel habits need looking at,” says Dr Jenkins.”Especially in the young, constipation is down to a hectic lifestyle and a poor diet. Some medicines, such as codeine-based painkillers, can cause it. In some cases colon cancer can be to blame, so tell your GP.
Other symptoms include diarrhoea, weight loss, wind, bloating, bleeding and a feeling you haven’t been to the toilet even after you have.
Changes to your nails:
“Your nails, like your eyes, can tell a lot about your health, your diet, inherited conditions and certain diseases,” says Dr Jenkins. “They can show us if you are anaemic or have other serious disorders. For example, lung problems cause `club-shaped’ nails while skin diseases cause pitting. Tiny blood clots under the nails can suggest blood infections while prolonged black or brown marks could be skin cancer. You might think these slight changes aren’t worth bothering your GP about, but for us they provide clues to potentially bigger problems.”
Again this might be just a minor irritant, but it needs investigating.”Rheumatoid arthritis is one possible cause, but anything putting pressure on the nerves coming out of the spine at the neck or down the arm can give tingling or numbness,” says Dr Jenkins.
The tingling sensation could be due to something like diabetes, vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid problems or, commonly, carpal tunnel syndrome, which usually causes tingling in the middle fingers.