8 Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

Understanding health symptoms that may signal something serious

Not every minor ache or pain requires a trip to the doctor, but some seemingly minor signs shouldn’t be ignored. When it comes to the following health symptoms, keep in mind the old adage, “when in doubt, check it out.”


“If you experience any of the following symptoms you don’t necessarily need to push the panic button, but you should probably get an evaluation from your doctor,” says Mark Shalauta, MD, a family medicine specialist at Scripps Clinic, Rancho Bernardo.


“Your primary care physician knows your medical history and can determine if it’s something to be concerned about—and if necessary, refer you to the appropriate specialist.”


1. Chest pain


All too often, people don’t take chest pain seriously and chalk it up to indigestion. The new chili recipe was too spicy, or the fettuccini alfredo too rich.


But don’t ignore chest pain if it persists for more than a few minutes, is recurring or is accompanied by sweating or nausea. This constellation of symptoms could indicate an issue with your heart. If you are having those symptoms and they are not improving, you should seek immediate medical attention.


2. Numbness


Numbness can occur because of multiple conditions, from shoes that are too tight to a pinched nerve or even a panic attack. Definitely don’t ignore sudden numbness confined to one side of your body. This could indicate a stroke, and you need to be seen by a physician immediately.


If both sides of your body feel numb, it is less likely that you are having a stroke — but check with your doctor to find out what your body is trying to tell you.


3. Dizziness


Dizziness has a variety of causes. Some are minor, such as not drinking enough water, but some are serious and even life-threatening, such as an abnormal heart rhythm.


As a general rule, if you are feeling lightheaded regularly and do not know why, see your primary care doctor. If you have an abrupt feeling of dizziness that is severe and persistent, you should go to the emergency room.


4. Nausea


Nausea, from mild indigestion to a cramp-style ache, is one of the most overlooked signs of heart trouble in women. While most cases of stomach ache and nausea are not caused by a heart attack, pay attention when a stomach ache seems out of the ordinary.


A sudden stomach ache accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, inability to keep anything down for 12 to 24 hours, shortness of breath and unusual fatigue, is of particular concern.


An NIH landmark study, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association found that 95 percent of women who had heart attacks reported nausea as one of the symptoms they experienced before a heart attack.


5. Changes in vision


Occasional spots or specs that move in and out of your field of vision and then disappear are called transient “floaters.” When they occur without any other symptoms, they are common and not dangerous. What should give you pause is abrupt vision loss, like a curtain suddenly coming over your vision. This could indicate a stroke and needs to be diagnosed.


A flash of bright light could be a sign of the retina detaching and also needs to be evaluated. If you have a history of diabetes, high blood pressure or heart issues, talk to your doctor about your vision changes.


6. Cough


It can be hard to know when to go the doctor for a cough.


“Most often, a cough is a symptom of a cold,” says Dr. Shalauta. “Some coughs can last from 10 days to three weeks. A good rule of thumb is if your cough is still hanging around after 10 days, and not improving, it’s time to see the doctor.”


You’ll want to make sure it has not developed into pneumonia or some other type of infection. Also check with your physician if you have an accompanying fever and are coughing up mucus that is yellow, tan or green. Finally, talk with your doctor if you’re coughing up blood.


7. Blood in stool


See your doctor if you notice blood in your stool, especially if you are over 50.


Easily treatable conditions such as hemorrhoids may be the cause, but getting an accurate diagnosis will put your mind at ease and rule out anything more serious.


8. Joint pain


Joint pain or stiffness can be caused by many types of injuries or conditions. No matter what causes it, joint pain can be bothersome and should not be disregarded. Tenderness around a joint, swelling, redness and warmth can be early signs of arthritis and should be evaluated.