Health watch: Symptoms you shouldn't ignore

Many of us tend to dismiss pain and certain symptoms until they become unbearable. Sometimes it’s because we convince ourselves that the symptoms are nothing to worry about and decide to “tough it out,” or we might be in denial because we’re afraid of getting diagnosed with a serious condition. According to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice in 2015, almost half of cancer patients ignore early warning signs such as a persistent cough or an unexplained lump.

Therefore, for the best outcomes, it’s imperative that you mention certain medical symptoms to your doctor. Here are some symptoms you should never ignore:

1. Sudden severe headache

A headache on a sunny day or when you are tired isn’t anything to worry about. However, if you experience a sudden intense and paralysing headache, go to the hospital immediately. We’re talking about a headache which feels like a 10 on the pain scale. It could be a sign of bleeding in the brain or a stroke. If you start suffering from migraines and you notice that the pain seems different or the attacks have become more frequent, make a doctor’s appointment. Also note that it’s rare for people to start having migraines after age 50- so mention this to your doctor.

2. Sudden hearing loss

If water gets inside your ears or you let earwax build up you might experience some temporary loss of hearing. But if you suddenly have a loss of hearing which can’t be explained, you could have a tumour of the auditory nerve. You could also lose hearing because of multiple sclerosis -- a long-lasting disease that can affect your brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves in your eyes. Although it is rare for sudden deafness to be a medical emergency, you should still go to the doctor for a check up and diagnosis.

3. Unexplained bleeding

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Bleeding from your rectum, coughing up blood, urinating blood or unusual bleeding from the vagina are conditions which warrant a visit to the doctor. Bleeding from the rectum is often caused by hemorrhoids or an anal fissure. Most cases of bleeding are easily explained and treated but it is important to go to the doctor to rule out more serious illness such as colon cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer or endometrial cancer.

4. Severe heartburn

A combination of heartburn, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath could be signs that you’re having a heart attack. These are signs that your heart muscles are not getting enough oxygen because a main artery is blocked. Women are especially likely to experience such symptoms instead of the classic heart attack symptoms (such as pain in the chest, jaw or arm). Don’t ignore these symptoms, even if you feel relieved after a while. Be sure to mention any family history of heart disease.

5. Unexplained weight loss

Most people, especially if overweight, welcome some weight-loss. However, suddenly losing a significant amount of weight without dieting or exercise should be reason to worry. This could be a symptom of cancer, thyroid disease, HIV or even depression.

6. Pain between shoulder blades

If you ever experience sudden and extreme pain between your shoulder blades, head to the hospital immediately. While the symptom could indicate something as minor as a muscle sprain, it could also be caused by one of the most feared medical emergencies -- a tear in the largest artery in the body. This can quickly turn fatal if surgery isn’t performed. People at high risk of aortic dissection usually have conditions that compromise the integrity of the vessel walls such as high blood pressure, diabetes, a history or circulation problems or smoking. Pain between your shoulders could also be caused by lung cancer or gallstones.

7. Calf pain

You might dismiss pain in your leg and assume it to be a muscle cramp. But if you have conditions which could affect your circulatory system, this pain could be caused by deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This means you have a blood clot in the deep veins in your legs, and it could travel up to your heart and cause a heart attack, to your brain and lead to stroke or to the lungs and cause pulmonary embolism. The risk factors for DVT include pregnancy, obesity, cancer, immobility due to pro-longed bed rest or long-distance travel, or advanced age.

8. Abdominal pain

If you have pain in your abdominal area and you know it isn’t just constipation, it’s best to go to the hospital for proper assessment. If you still have your appendix, pain in the right lower part of your abdomen could mean appendicitis. Gnawing pain in the top middle of your belly could also mean you have gastric ulcers. Other possible causes of abdominal pain include gallbladder and pancreas problems, or intestinal blockage.

Take a nature walk to relieve stress

Something as simple as a 20 to 30 minute walk could do wonders for your mood and help lower stress hormone levels in your body. This is according to a study published in the April 2019 journal Frontiers in Psychology. Previous studies have shown that spending time in nature helps reduce stress, but it wasn’t clear how long you need to be outdoors and which type of nature to seek out.

In this study, 36 people were asked to spend 10 minutes or longer, three days a week for eight weeks, outdoors where they could interact with nature. The settings ranged from yards to public parks or green areas at their places of work. They could either sit or take a walk during their nature time.

The researchers found that spending at least 20 to 30 minutes immersed in nature had the biggest drop in cortisol levels. After that time, additional stress-relieving benefits accrued more slowly. It’s also important to note that the time of day or specific setting didn’t significantly affect the results. So if you feel stress, just take a walk or sit in nature for about 30 minutes.

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