No one wants to think they have a health issue. So, they might wait to see their doctor or not mention symptoms that aren’t bothering them very much. Some health problems get better on their own. But others won’t unless you treat them.
Sudden weight loss. “A lot of people will think, ‘I haven't eaten much recently,’ ‘I was sick,’ or ‘I was under a lot of pressure,’” Dr. Aboushaar said. “But if they're losing weight unintentionally, without any lifestyle changes, it could mean an underlying disease or even a malignancy.” Consider how much weight you’ve lost and how much time it took. Twenty pounds over a five-year period isn’t a big deal. Twenty pounds over a few months is.
Fatigue. Fatigue can be confusing because it’s caused by so many things — getting over a cold, working too hard, or stress. But when fatigue lasts for weeks or months, it’s time to get it checked out. “Patients often describe something notably different from normal fatigue,” Dr. Aboushaar said. “It can affect their day-to-day activities — they come home and can't get off the couch or they have trouble staying awake.” Don’t ignore fatigue. It can be caused by a very life-changing illness, like cancer, severe anemia, or a thyroid disorder.
Chest pain. A heart attack or stroke can cause chest pain so doctors always want their patients to report it. But chest pains can also be caused by anxiety, indigestion, or a strained muscle. “A person might go to the ER and get an X-ray, an EKG, and labs and find out everything’s normal,” Dr. Aboushaar said. “So, I can understand why they might ignore chest pains next time, if the last time it happened, nothing was found.” Definitely address chest pain that comes with exertion or is accompanied by other symptoms. “If you get chest pain just from walking or from exercise and you have to stop for it to go away, that suggests angina,” he said. “If it's radiating up to your jaw or down your arm or causing nausea, it’s cardiac.”
High blood pressure. It can be confusing to respond to high blood pressure because blood pressure can vary. Stress, exercise, or using an improper technique when taking your blood pressure can change the reading. But ignoring high blood pressure isn’t a good idea either. Left untreated over time, high blood pressure damages the circulatory system and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. “High blood pressure in the 140s or 150s is not necessarily dangerous over a short period of time,” Dr. Aboushaar said. “Your doctor may give you a few months to try to bring it down with better eating and more exercise, before prescribing medication. But if it's symptomatic — you have severe headaches, vision changes, dizziness, chest pain — that’s when it’s important to bring your blood pressure down within a few hours or days, as opposed to a few months.”
Preventative screenings. Many people are reliable about getting their annual checkups, where their blood sugar and cholesterol levels are screened. But they don’t know when they had their last colonoscopy or a pap smear. “These screenings may not comfortable to do and sometimes there’s a cost. But for patients with the means, they’re important,” Dr. Aboushaar said. “If we detect something, we’re able to treat it in advance, and that can be potentially lifesaving.”