WHEN it comes to looking after our bodies, it can be hard to know when a twinge in your back or that lump or bump is something serious.
During the coronavirus pandemic, many people have stayed away from their GPs due to fear of attending the surgery in person or through not wanting to burden the NHS.
A recent poll discovered that during the pandemic, one in three Brits avoided going to the doctors.
Four in 10 assumed the problem would simply go away and 14 per cent avoided getting treatment because they were ‘too embarrassed.’
While some people worry about every ache and pain, many also tend to ignore syptoms.
One expert said there are still good reasons to visit your GP, even though you may not think your symptoms are serious.
Matron at Benenden Health, Cheryl Lythgoe said if you’re suffering from unexplained or concerning symptoms, it’s important to seek medical advice.
Here Cheryl goes through the symptoms that warrant your doctor's attention.
1. Weight loss
If you've had an over indulgent Easter then you might be carrying a few extra pounds.
For some people dieting can be a never ending treadmill and to lose weight you need to burn more energy than you are eating.
But if you haven't cut back on your food and you haven't upped your exercise routine, Cheryl said something else could be causing you to lose weight.
She said: "There are dozens of potential reasons: from digestive problems, to infection, to depression or anxiety.
"Unexplained weight loss can even be caused by an undiagnosed cancer, so always go to see a doctor if you start to shed pounds unexpectedly."
The NHS says that your weight always fluctuates, but that if you've lost more than 5 per cent of your body weight over six to 12 months then this could be a cause for concern.
Most people usually treat headaches with over the counter remedies and around 10 million people in the UK have headaches on a regular basis.
The NHS states that headaches usually go away on their own and are not usually a sign of something more serious.
Cheryl said that you should take notice of your headaches if you experience certain types.
She said: "The most common – tension headaches – are fairly short-lived and are typically brought on by lack of sleep, stress, hunger, not drinking enough water or too much caffeine. They can be treated with paracetamol and/or ibuprofen.
"A severe throbbing headache at the front or side of the head may be a migraine which, while not life-threatening, is deeply unpleasant and needs prompt medical attention if not previously diagnosed.
"A sudden, blinding headache always needs immediate attention", she added.
3. A persistent cough
During the coronavirus pandemic we have all learnt that a new persistent cough is a key sign of Covid-19 and if you're experiencing this symptom then you should get a test and isolate.
Cheryl said the lungs are one of the most vulnerable parts of the body, and the immune system is forever working hard to clear out the gunk and germs we breathe in every day – especially in smokers.
She added: "Whilst a new, continuous cough can be a symptom of Covid-19, if this is not the cause, a cough that goes on for two weeks or brings up blood should always be assessed by a doctor.
"Smokers and ex-smokers need to be especially conscious of getting long-standing coughs checked out without delay."
4. Yellowing skin
Cheryl said that what’s in our blood can sometimes show in our skin.
She said that vegetarians and those who love their greens tend to have an orange-ish hue to their complexion.
"If someone notices that you are looking a bit yellow around the gills then visit your doctor", she said.
This could mean that the liver is not working to its full capacity – causing a banana-coloured substance called bilirubin to accumulate in the blood – which in turn shows up in the skin.
Cheryl said that it can also make your eyes look a little bit golden.
5. Nodding off
We've all nodded off in front of the TV and this usually isn't any cause for concern.
But Cheryl said if you never feel refreshed, even after a good night’s sleep, or find yourself regularly dozing off in the daytime then you should see your GP.
She said: "In the UK, an estimated 750,000 people are unknowingly affected by a problem known as obstructive sleep apnoea – or OSA.
"The condition makes you feel perpetually exhausted and increases the risk of heart problems.
"OSA isn't the only condition to look out for, however. These symptoms could also indicate other conditions like anaemia or thyroid problems. Your GP can give you a blood test to check for this."
6. Flashes and floaters
Cheryl said that people can sometimes see things that aren't real, for example if you look at a bright white wall or stare up at a blue, cloudless sky and you will probably be able to spot some odd black wispy blobs floating across your vision.
These, Cheryl said are perfectly harmless ‘floaters’, caused by tiny, near-transparent fragments of old tissue that have broken off from the back of the eye and are swimming around in the fluid inside the eyeball.
She said: "A sudden ‘shower’ of lots of floaters may be the first sign of a retinal detachment or a retinal tear, which means that the delicate, light-sensitive sheet of tissue at the back of the eye is starting to peel away.
"Getting help quickly means an eye doctor can fix the problem by ‘gluing’ the retina back in place with a surgical procedure."
7. A new growing mole
While the warm weather can be great for our mood and for our vitamin D levels, you need to make sure you keep an eye on your skin – especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun.
Cheryl said that excessive sunbathing and increased use of tanning salons has led to rates of malignant skin cancer (melanoma) sky-rocketing in recent years: six people now die of melanoma in the UK every day.
She added: "If you catch a skin cancer early, however, it can be removed without any lasting harm.
"Check yourself every few months for new moles or freckles – even in winter.
"Any mole that has got larger, is itchy or bleeds, has raggedy edges or is made of different shades of brown should be shown to a doctor."
8. Back pain
We all have little niggles now and then and if you've been doing home workouts then you might feel a little bit sore afterwards – especially if you haven't exercised in a while.
But there are some pains that demand urgent attention.
Cheryl said that most of the time your GP or physiotherapist can give you advice on how to deal with the pain.
She said: "See a doctor as soon as possible for back pain that doesn’t improve with rest, is worse at night, or is accompanied by chest pain or fever.
"Numbness or tingling around the groin or buttocks, losing control of your bladder or bowels or finding it difficult to urinate might mean the nerves at the very base of the spine have become trapped, and so require urgent attention."
9. A change in bowel habits
Around one in five people will experience a stomach bug each year and most cases settle down without ill effects.
But if you are regular as clockwork and notice that you are going more or less frequently than normal for more than a few weeks then your doctor will want to know about it.
Cheryl said :"For anyone aged over 60, current medical guidance states that any change in bowel habit warrants testing.
"If stool is very dark or black, sticky, or contains blood, then it is even more important to get an appointment as soon as you can."
10. Chest pains
We've all seen dramatic scenes on TV where a character grips their left arm, winces with crushing chest pain and collapses to the floor has just had a heart attack.
Cheryl said that most of the time it doesn't happen this way and that chest pains can sometimes be harmless.
She said: "When the heart is starved of oxygen due to a heart attack or angina, it typically feels dull and heavy; sometimes a bit like ‘an elephant sitting on your chest’.
"It usually gets worse with exercise and stress, can move into either arm, and may be accompanied by sweating and/or breathlessness.
"Reach for the telephone if you feel these symptoms because a medic may need to give you a clot-busting drug to reverse the problem."
While the ten symptoms above can be common, Cheryl said that they aren't exhaustive and that there are plenty of others reasons as to why you should see a doctor.
She added: "If you notice any sudden changes in your body or health, be wary of investigating your concerns online as this is likely to bring up inaccurate information. Instead, make a GP’s appointment or call the NHS’s non-emergency line, 111."
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