June 05, 2012
Noticed a small tremor in your hand? Probably Parkinson’s disease? Maybe; it all depends on your age and what other symptoms you might be having.
With the wide accessibility of medical information on the internet, it’s easy to convince yourself that you have some serious disease or condition you’re going to die from – usually pretty soon too! There’s no filter on the internet – it’s hard to tell what’s good information versus useless advice. And it seems that everybody that searches for medical information ends up believing they have some rare or life-threatening condition.
So how do you tell if a symptom is serious or just a normal part of aging or something that will go away without you even having to do anything?
There are a couple of weird symptoms or more likely common symptoms that are just a little bit different that should cause some concern. What are they?
1. Sparks or flashes of light in your visual field. Or maybe it feels like a curtain is coming down on one eye. Do not mess around when you have vision changes. What I just described is extremely serious - it could represent a condition called retinal detachment. If not recognized and treated immediately, you will likely go blind.
2. Feeling full after eating small amounts of food. If you’re feeling full often, especially when you’re not trying to diet, this raises concern. I’m even more concerned if you are nauseous with the small amount of food you’re consuming. Usually, these symptoms are related to an ulcer or reflux disease. But if you’re losing weight, I’d be concerned about cancer. Stomach and pancreatic cancer as well as some types of leukemias can cause you to feel full after eating just a few bites. If you’re having these symptoms, you need to be checked out.
3. Lost sense of smell. The fancy medical term is anosmia. As we get older, our sense of smell decreases, but it should never go away completely - and certainly not suddenly. If you have lost your sense of smell, it’s most likely due to a polyp in your nose, but it could also be due to a low thyroid. So ask to have your thyroid checked. More concerning is a certain type of brain tumor that affects the area that controls smell.
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4. Abdominal pain that starts around your belly button but then gradually moves to your lower right side over several hours. We all get belly pain – and 99 out of a 100 times, it’s due to something we ate. But the key here is whether or not the belly pain resolves in a few hours. If it gets better over time, not worse, than it's most likely something minor. When I hear the pain is getting worse, and it moved from the middle of the lower abdomen to the right side, I start to get worried. If there’s nausea and constipation, I’m even more concerned. If there’s fever – it’s time to get to the ER. Appendicitis is a condition that requires urgent surgery. People can die of appendicitis if it’s not diagnosed and treated.
5. We all have had a hoarse voice at some point in our lives; either after shouting at friends or children, or maybe during allergy season. But a hoarse voice accompanied by chest pain that radiates straight to the back could represent impending disaster. Chest pain is always something you should take seriously; if it radiates to the back and you are hoarse, you may actually have an immediate life-threatening condition called a dissecting aortic aneurysm. The aorta is your largest and most important blood vessel; its delivers blood to every part of the body. In a dissection, there’s damage that basically can cause it to explode. The hoarseness would tell me the tearing is occurring at the arch – a very bad thing. If you or a loved one has these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.
6. Tingling, sometimes associated with numbness or burning in various parts of the body. We’ve all gotten that “pins and needles” feeling at some point. But usually it only happens a few times a year, not a couple of times a week. And it is unusual to have that sensation in multiple areas of the body, including the face. Tingling and numbness can be associated with nerve damage as well as diabetes. But they can often be one of the earliest signs of multiple sclerosis. So if you’re experiencing tingling or numbness, you need to see the doctor right away.
More on Preventative Care:
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