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Medical Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

At times, it can be difficult to know whether your symptoms are a medical emergency or not. According to the American College of Physicians (ACEP), these 12 symptoms require immediate medical attention. These do not represent every medical emergency.

Emergency symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath

  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure lasting two minutes or more

  • Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness

  • Changes in vision

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Confusion or changes in mental status, unusual behavior, difficulty walking

  • Any sudden or severe pain

  • Uncontrolled bleeding

  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea

  • Coughing or vomiting blood

  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings

  • Unusual abdominal pain

More emergency symptoms

Additional symptoms or conditions requiring emergency care include:

  • Poisoning

  • Drug overdose

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Major burn

  • Spinal, head or brain injury

  • Severe allergic reaction

Symptoms to report

Other medical symptoms that may not require emergent treatment, still need to be seen by your health care provider. The following are examples of some of these symptoms.

Blood in the urine

Although it may indicate a simple bladder infection, this symptom could also mean something more serious, such as a kidney stone or even a malignancy. To find out what's going on, your doctor may order a series of tests, including urinalysis and blood tests, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Urinalysis examines the urine for red blood cells, as well as white blood cells, which are a sign of a urinary tract infection, and casts, which are clumps of cells that are a sign of kidney disease. Other tests such as X-rays, ultrasounds, or even cystoscopic exams may be necessary. A cystoscopic exam involves looking inside the bladder with a very small tube.

Rectal bleeding

Blood in the stool could be from hemorrhoids, or it could be caused by an active ulcer or colon cancer. Bright-red blood indicates active bleeding. If there's a lot of blood, it could be life threatening. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If the amount of blood is small, you can usually be evaluated in the doctor's office, but call your doctor right away for advice. Simple tests can detect the presence of blood in the stool and estimate how much you're losing. If tests confirm bleeding, an endoscopy, colonoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy will let the doctor see what's going on.

Unusual sores, lumps or lesions

These symptoms usually are benign, but you should have them checked by a health care provider. If you live in a sunny climate or if you spend a lot of time outside, you should be especially wary of all kinds of skin lesions, which may indicate skin cancer. Look for sores that always seem to be irritated or moles that change size, have irregular shapes, or change color.

Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, John, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Weisbart, Ed, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/31/2013
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