If you have these symptoms, you need to see a doctor

“If only you’d made an appointment earlier!” Some symptoms need to be checked without delay. Eight signs that you should talk to your doctor - from severe pain to sharply impaired vision.

Text: Jessica Braun; photo: iStock

It’s quite normal to feel down from time to time: your head hurts, your nose runs or your stomach grumbles. But when the symptoms go beyond the ordinary, feel more intense or don’t subside, it is advisable to see a doctor. At other times, our bodies only send subtle signals. These might also require attention - and in some cases even a phone call to the emergency services. That’s because certain illnesses and injuries need to be examined and treated as quickly as possible to rule out long-term consequences. The following list is not exhaustive and doesn’t replace a consultation with a doctor. You know your body best. If something seems wrong, get it checked out. 

Severe pain

Of course, this doesn’t mean sore muscles, but unexpected pain that’s difficult to bear. Pain of this kind could be an acute warning signal, particularly in the chest or abdomen: a heart attack, for example, often manifests itself through a stabbing or burning sensation behind the breastbone, and in women often also in the upper abdomen. Abdominal pain could be caused by appendicitis.

Gallstones are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. If the pain increases gradually and doesn’t subside after several days, it’s unlikely to be an emergency, but it’s still reason enough to arrange an appointment with your doctor quickly.

Severe blood loss

The amount of blood that circulates in the body varies from one person to another. For a child, it’s assumed to be about 80 millilitres of blood per kilogramme of body weight, while for adults it’s estimated to be between 60 (women) and 70 (men) millilitres. If a person loses one litre or more within an hour, there’s a risk of shock, which can be life-threatening.

In this case, the heart is no longer able to pump sufficient amounts of blood through the body. Blood pressure drops, the heart races and you feel dizzy. Feelings of anxiety set in. A person who is bleeding heavily should immediately sit down or lie down, apply pressure to the wound and call the emergency services. 

Drooping facial features, paralysed arm and/or speech disorders

These are the typical symptoms of a stroke – and indications that you should call the emergency service (144) immediately. In women, the signs of a stroke may be different, for example nausea, shortness of breath, chest pain or a headache – especially if they occur together – and should also be taken very seriously. If a blood clot blocks the blood supply to the brain, it is life-threatening.

The best chances for those affected come through treatment in the stroke unit of a specialised hospital – ideally within three hours of the first symptoms. That’s why it’s critical to inform the emergency services that it could be a stroke. 

Severe vomiting or diarrhoea

Most of us know how it feels when a virus brings our meals back up again. Noroviruses and rotaviruses affect adults about once a year, and they affect children even more often.

However, if vomiting or diarrhoea are so severe that you can’t keep liquids down, and if dizziness and circulatory problems occur, medical help is needed. Blood in the stool is also a warning signal.  

High or persistent fever

A fever is a sign that an infection is attacking the body – and that the body is fighting off the pathogens with all its might. Generally, it’s sufficient to stay in bed and drink lots of fluids. However, if the fever rises above 39 degrees, you should see a doctor.

When shivering, accelerated breathing and confusion are added into the mix, these are alarm signals for blood poisoning, also known as sepsis. Blood poisoning can result in multiple organ failure – which is fatal. More than three days with a low fever are also a reason to get checked. 

Unexplained weight loss

To some, this may sound like a welcome development. However, weight loss for no apparent reason can indicate a variety of conditions, including ovarian cancer, a hormone imbalance or autoimmune disease.

Breathing difficulties

Climbing the stairs too quickly, eating more than usual at lunch or high summer temperatures – there are many reasons for shortness of breath. Some even quite pleasant!

However, when your breathing is suddenly restricted for no apparent reason, it’s time to consult a doctor. Diseases that make breathing difficult include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, but also blood clots in the lungs, known as pulmonary embolism. However, the trigger may also be of a psychological origin: depression or anxiety also influence breathing.

Sudden visual disturbances or flashes of light

Some people who suffer from migraines see white, flashing lines as a result of the attacks – with or without the customary headache. If bright, flickering lights suddenly appear in your field of vision for no reason, in rare cases it may be down to a retinal detachment or – particularly in people with diabetes – a haemorrhage in the vitreous body. This is the gel-like substance that makes up large parts of the eye.

A sudden loss of vision is an emergency: the causes may include a blocked retinal artery, an inflammation, and in exceptional cases even a stroke.