With the wonders of the internet many patients arrive at their GP surgery having already diagnosed themselves, chosen which tests they need and decided upon their treatment. Given that I am writing to you via the Patient website, clearly I am in favour of people educating themselves regarding their health. However, like many of my colleagues I have some concerns regarding the widespread use of modern technology in allowing people to self-diagnose. Not only does it often cause unnecessary alarm and angst; it occasionally works the other way. Being falsely reassured following a quick Google check is not always helpful either. Here are a few symptoms that should always warrant a trip to the doctors…
1) Bleeding from the back passage
In the vast majority of circumstances bleeding from the bottom end is attributable to something fairly innocent such as piles. However, bleeding, especially if it is in conjunction with a change in your bowel habit may point to a more serious cause. Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease and bowel cancer may all present in this way.
Any new lumps or bumps should warrant a review by your GP. Fortunately, nowadays women are fairly clued up when it comes to checking their breasts, but chaps are not as vigilant when it comes to testicular self-examination. Glands or lymph nodes often appear due to local infections - eg, under the jaw during a bout of tonsillitis. Yet they can also enlarge due to cancers or types of inflammation. If a new lump persists for a couple of weeks without disappearing then see your doctor.
3) Weight loss
Although it feels as if half the country is on one diet or another, weight loss is not always intentional. Losing weight without trying can be a symptom of many serious conditions. Hormonal problems such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism may first present with weight loss, as can many inflammatory illnesses and cancers.
We all get tired. I certainly have days where all I long to do is hit the sack early. However, persistent fatigue that isn't resolved by an early night can be due to medical causes. Blood tests are usually advised in cases of extreme fatigue, to look for anaemia, kidney problems, hormone issues, liver upset, vitamin deficiencies and signs of more general illness. It is worth remembering that mental health problems such as depression can also present with excessive fatigue.
5) Changing moles
Moles do change and new ones can appear at any age. Most skin lesions are totally innocent but it is always worth seeing your doctor if you are concerned or have noticed changes. Here is a helpful aide-mémoire when it comes to moles and what to look for:
• A - asymmetry
• B - border irregularity
• C - colour change
• D - diameter
• E - elevated (raised) or enlarged.
Should you spot any of these changes, it doesn't mean the mole has become cancerous but it does mean you should get your doctor to have a peek at it.
Headaches are an extremely common reason people visit their doctor and frequently patients are concerned that their headache is due to a brain tumour. Most headaches are not serious or life-threatening, and only in a small percentage of cases are headaches due to tumours. If headaches are associated with other symptoms such as confusion, speech or balance problems, seeing your doctor promptly is advised. Other symptoms to be aware of are associated nausea and vomiting, or headaches that worsen when standing. Many headaches come on gradually, but an extremely sudden-onset headache should also never be ignored.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list. In general terms symptoms which persist more than a few weeks, or that are causing you significant worry, should be checked out with your doctor. By all means use trustworthy sites like Patient.info - but don't let it replace your friendly GP!
Dr Jessica Garner is a GP and health blogger. Visit her blog here.