| When Should I See A Doctor?
According to the CDC, 1 billion physician office visits occur every year in the United States. The most frequent reason cited for a visit is a general medical examination. The most commonly diagnosed condition by doctors every year is hypertension (high blood pressure). 12 percent of adults aged over 18 are told they have heart disease, 6 per cent coronary heart disease and 3 percent are told they have had a stroke. 9 percent are told they have diabetes and 8 percent are diagnosed with some form of cancer.
Why People See Their Doctor
Outside of those attending their doctors for a general medical examination, most people are visiting generally for one of three reasons. The first of these is during an episode of sudden illness, to try to find out what the illness is, and whether treatment is required. Fortunately, many of these illnesses clear up on their own, and require only relief of symptoms. Examples include coughs and colds, flu, backache and gastroenteritis. Many people are happy to manage these illnesses at home, perhaps with the help of their local pharmacist, without visiting the doctor. Secondly, a large number of consultations is now taken up with seeing people who have a long-standing (chronic) medical condition, which requires periodic monitoring. Conditions in this group include ailments such as raised blood pressure, asthma, diabetes and heart disease. With improved detection of these conditions, the numbers of sufferers have increased markedly, leading to a situation where trained nurses within special clinics in the surgery now carry out many of the consultations.
The final reason for attending the doctor's surgery is the one we will concentrate on, and concerns those patients who are generally well, but have noticed some change within their normal pattern of body rhythms or functions. The following information deals with symptoms and signs, which may indicate some form of serious illness, although the presence of such changes does not necessarily imply that a sinister cause is responsible.
1. WEIGHT CHANGES
Most people experience fluctuations in weight, but changes that happen in a reasonably short period of time, in the absence of dieting or increased calorie intake, should be reported to your doctor. Weight loss is sometimes the earliest symptom of disorders of the digestive system, for example, cancer, or inflammation of the bowel lining. Even without other symptoms being present, this is an important pointer. Weight gain can occasionally signal hormonal problems, although it is more often due to increasing age and loss of fitness levels.
Persistent pain of any sort that is not easily explained by a specific injury should not be ignored. Sudden chest pain, in particular, should be regarded as an emergency and, generally, an ambulance should be called. Pain in the abdomen, headache or back pain, if sudden in onset or severe in nature, requires medical attention.
3. BOWEL MOVEMENTS
Diarrhea or constipation that lasts for more than a week or two, and is not due to an obvious infection or change in diet, should trigger a check-up with your doctor. This is particularly important if there is any evidence of bleeding from the intestines. Bleeding may be obvious, with bright red blood on the toilet paper, or in the lavatory bowl. Often, however, the bleeding is hidden (occult), being mixed with the feces high up in the digestive tract, leading to a dark brown, or black, tarry stool known as melena. This should never be ignored. When bleeding from other body openings, such as blood in the urine, coughing up blood, or vomiting blood, it is always vital to consult with your doctor.
Unexplained fatigue, or general malaise without an obvious cause such as a viral infection, can be due to a number of potentially serious causes, and should be investigated by a doctor if it does not go away within a week on its own. See also: why am I so tired all the time?
Finally, the discovery of a lump, in particular a breast lump in women, is potentially a tumor, and must be checked out as soon as possible. Similarly, any breast pain should also be investigated.
Related Questions And Resources
Do I have a cold or the flu?: Check your symptoms.
Why do I feel faint? : Potential causes explained.
How to treat common illnesses: At home, without a doctor's visit.
Recommended health screenings for women: Which tests should you have?
• Need more information about bowel problems? See: Bowel Disorders
• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions
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