When does your doctor need to know?
Which of us hasn't wished we had a doctor who could give our niggles the once over and set our minds at rest? Lots of conditions keep us awake with worry but are gone within days. How do you tell which is which?
'A bit of bleeding'
On the whole, apart from periods, we shouldn't bleed unless we're cut.
Nosebleeds - these are very common in kids (we know where those little fingers poke!) and are rarely anything to worry about. High blood pressure is rarely to blame - blocked noses from colds and hay fever are more common. If you're taking blood-thinning medicine like warfarin, or if you get long- lasting (over 20 minutes) or repeated nosebleeds, see your doctor.
Ladies' bleeding - irregular periods are so common they're almost normal! They're more likely in the years leading up to the menopause. You don't need to see your doctor unless:
- You're bleeding between periods or after making love
- You bleed after the menopause
- You have other symptoms like pain or very heavy bleeding, which can cause anaemia and tiredness.
Bleeding from the bottom - piles are by far the most common cause, and bleeding tends to be bright red, on the paper or pan (not mixed with the stool) and often accompanied by constipation or pain in the bottom. Always worth checking out to exclude a more serious cause; your doctor can often reassure you.
Blood in the urine - never normal, this can be caused by infection, kidney stones, a blood-clotting disorder or occasionally a tumour. Always trouble your doctor with this one!
Itchy eyes and nose?
We're in peak hay fever season from May-July, when grass pollen rates are at their highest. However, if you're allergic to tree pollens instead, your symptoms may start in early spring instead. Blocked/runny/itchy nose and sneezing are the most common symptoms, but you can be troubled by itchy eyes and throat too. Some people get similar symptoms all year round - this is known as perennial rhinitis and is more likely to be related to allergy to house dust mites or pets. If you pay for your prescriptions, speak to your pharmacist rather than your GP - you can get the same medicine from them as you'd get from your GP, often more cheaply than the cost of a prescription.
Sore throat? When should you worry?
We all get sore throats, and the vast majority are caused by viral infections. Antibiotics wouldn't be any good for these and can cause side effects. Some factors make bacterial infection more likely, so see your doctor if you have any combination of sore throat without cough or cold; swollen glands; high fever; white spots on the back of your throat; or real difficulty swallowing. If you're taking a medicine called methotrexate (used for conditions like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis) sore throat can occasionally be a symptom of a potentially serious drop in the white blood cells in your blood, so see your doctor immediately. Otherwise, simple painkillers and rest should have you on the mend within days.
My voice is hoarse!
Lots of viral infections make you lose your voice. But if you have a persistently hoarse voice, especially if you've ever been a smoker, do see your doctor. While highly unlikely, you need checking out for throat cancer which has a much higher chance of cure if caught early.
Three quarters of us get it, and it usually settles on its own. But how do you know your low backache is just another niggle? 'Simple' back pain accounts for 95% of cases of low back pain. That doesn't mean it's mild - it can be extremely painful. However, there are lots of clues that it's likely to settle within weeks at most with no long-term consequences. 'Simple' back pain is usually made better by lying down, and worse if you twist, cough, or sneeze. The pain is in your back, not your legs, and you have no numbness, weakness or tingling. You don't have fever, weight loss or problems with your bladder or bowels and you don't feel generally unwell. If in doubt, give your GP a ring - they can advise if you need to be seen.
Doctors appointments - is there an alternative?
These days there are lots of alternatives to waiting in line at the doctor's surgery. Almost all GPs take phone calls from patients every day, and I reckon I can deal with at least half the queries I get without seeing the patient. Pharmacists are also an invaluable source of advice - as well as telling you if your symptoms need checking out, they can offer many treatments which used to be available only on prescription.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.