Wondering When to See a Doctor?
You may think you only need to see a doctor when you have a severe condition. However, there are good reasons to see a doctor before you need emergency care. Going to the doctor earlier rather than later can often lead to a better outcome, should your provider discover something serious.
You've Hit Your Head
Hitting your head can lead to a concussion, another name for a traumatic brain injury. Most concussions are not life-threatening but can be dangerous when left untreated. If you have hit your head, go to the doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Sensitivity to light and noise
Your Fever Is High or Won't Go Away
A high fever or one that lasts for a long time can be a sign of something serious. If your fever is higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit or lasts longer than 3 days, see your doctor. You may have an infection that requires medical attention.
You should also see a doctor if your fever goes away and then comes back after a day or so.
If your baby is younger than 3 months and gets a fever for any length of time, see a doctor.
You Have a Cough for 2 Weeks or Longer
If you have a cough that just won't go away, see your doctor. It might be a sign of a more serious condition. You should see your doctor before two weeks if you have other symptoms with your cough like:
- Difficulty breathing
- Thick phlegm
- Green or yellow phlegm
- Weight loss
- Swelling of the ankles
You Experience Sudden Weight Loss
If you haven't been trying to lose weight, and lose 5-10% of your body weight over 6 months, see a doctor. This could be a sign of a few different conditions including:
- Thyroid problems
- Liver disease
- Medication side effects
- Dysphagia (trouble swallowing)
- Crohn's disease
- Coeliac disease
- Ulcerative colitis
You Have Severe Pain
Seek immediate medical attention if you have severe pain in your chest, abdomen, or pelvic area. Severe pain in those areas could indicate a problem with one of your internal organs. For example, chest pain could indicate a heart attack, and lower abdominal pain could be a sign of appendicitis.
Less severe pain elsewhere in the body may resolve on its own. Pains like muscle aches and soreness don't always require a trip to the doctor. However, if you have a pain that isn't getting better after a few days, make an appointment to get it checked out.
You Have Mood Changes
Abnormal mood swings or confusion can be a sign of a mental health condition or a side effect of a medication. For example, irritability can be a sign of depression or a sleep disorder. It can also be a side effect of medications like steroids. Mood swings and confusion may also be an early sign of dementia.
It's normal to have some mood changes. However, if you have a significant change that lasts several weeks, talk to your doctor.
You Have Severe Diarrhea
Most cases of diarrhea go away on their own quickly. However, see a doctor if:
- You have 10 or more bowel movements in 1 day
- Your diarrhea isn't getting better after 2 days
- Your bowel movements are black or bloody
- You have signs of dehydration including:
- Dry mouth
- Dark-colored urine
- Low urine output
- Acute abdominal pain
- A high fever
If your child has diarrhea, take them to see the doctor if:
- They have 10 or more bowel movements in 1 day
- Their diarrhea doesn't get better after 1 day
- They have signs of dehydration including:
- Not urinating for 3 hours (dry diaper)
- Dry tongue or mouth
- Crying without tears
- Unusually tired or crabby behavior
- Black color to bowel movements
- Blood in bowel movements
- A high fever
You Have Difficulty Breathing
It's normal to feel short of breath for a few minutes after strenuous exercise or when visiting higher altitudes. You may also have this feeling if you feel panicked for a moment. However, feeling short of breath at other times is a sign you need medical attention.
If you have difficulty breathing that affects your everyday activities or shortness of breath that keeps you up at night, see your doctor. It might be a sign of a condition like heart disease.
You're Experiencing Undesirable Side Effects of a Medication
Most medications have side effects. Some of these side effects are minor and can be tolerated. However, in some cases, side effects can be difficult to deal with and may affect your everyday life.
To reduce the risk of side effects, always take your medications as directed. Make sure to tell your doctor about all other medications and supplements you're taking to reduce the risks of interactions.
If you do experience side effects of a new medication, let your doctor know as soon as you can. They may be able to recommend a different medication or adjust your dosage.
You Experience New Symptoms After a Procedure or Surgery
A fever, swelling or redness around the incision, or the presence of pus after surgery could be signs that something is wrong. If you have any symptoms after surgery that seem out of the ordinary or unexpected based on what you have discussed with your doctor, make an appointment.
Symptoms that require immediate attention after surgery include:
- Shortness of breath
- Blue skin or lips
- Fast heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Severe pain
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