Here are a few tips to help you to safely assess 7 scary symptoms that you can treat yourself and save a visit to the doctor.
- Elevated blood pressure: Don’t worry if it’s just one reading after a stressful event. If you haven’t checked your BP in a while and then see the higher number 140’s or 150’s, if you don’t have any other symptoms, don’t freakout. Rest for 20 minutes and measure it again, if it goes back to 120’s, just keep an eye on it, measure it a few times a week and mention it your doctor on your next appointment. You might have pre-hypertension and some lifestyle modification can help you delay or prevent the need for medication.
When to see your doctor: If you get high readings several times a week, make an appointment with your doctor ASAP. Untreated high blood pressure is called the silent killer, it increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. If your blood pressure is over 180 the higher number or the lower number is over 110, this is a medical emergency, seek help immediately.
- Low blood pressure: If you don’t have any symptoms, it might be normal for you to have low Blood Pressure with higher number on 90’s or 100’s. Make sure you hydrate yourself well.
When to see your doctor: If you feel lightheaded, heart racing or fainting, then you need to see your doctor ASAP.
- High heart rate: If your heart rate is over 100 per minute during or after exercising it’s normal, if you have had a scary near miss in traffic, it’s normal. Also, too much caffeine or dehydration can cause your heart to race. Treat the cause, decrease caffeine intake, avoid energy drinks, drink plenty of water. Relax more.
When to see your doctor: If your heart is racing and you feel chest pain, difficulty breathing or passing out this is a medical emergency.
- Low heart rate: If your heart rate is below 60 beats per minute it’s considered bradycardia, but not necessarily abnormal. If you’re an athlete or do regular exercises a low heart rate is normal.
When to see your doctor: If your heart rate is below 60 and you feel lightheaded or passing out you need help ASAP.
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea: If you don’t have any other symptoms, you may be okay to be treated at home. It may be caused by food intolerance or a stomach virus. Top priority is to hydrate yourself well. Start a BRAT diet: Banana, rice, apple, toast… progress as tolerated. Avoid dairy products and coffee until you’re back to normal.
When to see your doctor: If you can’t hydrate well and the symptoms are getting worse, you may need intravenous fluids and medication to help with symptoms. If you have abdominal pain (other than a little upset stomach), fever, blood in your vomit or stool you may need immediate attention as it may indicate more serious conditions.
- Blood in your stool: If it’s a onetime event, in small quantity, and you have been dealing with constipation and straining, make sure you drink at least 2 liters of water a day and eat more fiber in your diet.
When to see your doctor: If bleeding persists or if you have family history of colon cancer, or if you’re older than 45 and have not done a colonoscopy recently you need to see your doctor ASAP.
- Headache: If you have a history of migraine and feel nausea and vomiting, light and sound sensitivity you may want to take your medications and rest in a dark room. Other headaches that you’re not used to, may be scary but most of the time it’s not anything serious. Stress can cause tension headaches. Dehydration, lack of sleep, caffeine withdrawal can also cause headaches. Stress-reducing strategies, hydration and good night sleep may help ease the pain.
When to see your doctor: If your headache is debilitating and not getting better you need further assessment. If you have “the worst headache of your life”, you should see a doctor immediately.
Go to ER if you have:
- Chest pain, pain in the jaw, neck, back, one or both arms and shoulders.
- Severe difficulty breathing.
- Trouble walking, speaking, and understanding.
- Facial drooping or numbness.
- Weakness of arm or leg.
- Loss of control of bladder or bowels.
- Loss of consciousness or confusion.
- Severe bleeding.
- Intense abdominal pain.
- Fall with head concussion.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of severe symptoms you should go to ER or see a doctor. Use your judgment, and don’t delay treatment.