Spotting symptoms like a cough, fever, and loss of smell was drummed into us during the pandemic – and rightly so. (NB symptoms have been updated – see more on COVID in 2023 here). But as we get back to normal and try to put the pandemic behind us, there are still plenty of non-COVID symptoms that should be on our radar, as ZoomDoc’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kenny Livingstone explains:
‘Things like lumps, unexpected bleeding, and lingering coughs can (sometimes) be a sign of something serious, and like with most diseases or health conditions, the sooner you see your doctor about them, the better. I’d urge patients to be familiar with these potential warning signs, and to get them checked out as soon as possible.’
Here’s what should always be on your radar …
Blood in your pee or poo
Blood in pee can be caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney stones, but it can also be a warning sign of cancer. NHS advice is to always see a doctor even if:
- you do not have any other symptoms
- it’s the first time it’s happened
- there’s only a small amount of blood
- you’re not sure it’s blood
Bleeding from your bottom or blood in poo can be caused by hemorrhoids (piles) but darker blood can be a sign of bowel cancer – the third most common cancer in the UK (source: NHS).
Symptoms can include:
- bleeding from your bottom or blood in your stool
- a change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more (looser, more frequent, less frequent, or just different)
- unexplained weight loss
- extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- a pain or lump in your tummy
‘If you have one or more of these symptoms, or if things just don’t feel right, see your GP as soon as possible,’ says Dr. Kenny.
Lumps and bumps can pop up pretty much anywhere on the body, so how do you know when to worry? NHS advice suggests seeing a doctor if:
- your lump gets bigger
- your lump is painful, red, or hot
- your lump is hard and does not move
- your lump lasts more than 2 weeks
- a lump grows back after it’s been removed
- you have a lump in the breast or testicles
- you have a swelling on the side of your neck, armpit, or groin that does not go down.
‘Lumps can often be benign (non-cancerous) but they can also be cancerous. Either way, if you’ve just found one, the sooner you see the doctor, the sooner it can be ruled out, removed, or treated, if necessary,’ says Dr. Kenny.
‘It’s worth noting that most breast lumps aren’t cancerous but it’s still important to get yours checked out, as soon as you notice one,’ he adds.
Last summer, the NHS launched an awareness campaign for England’s most deadly cancer, lung cancer. Concerned that not enough people were coming forward with symptoms, health experts have been urging people to see their GP with a persistent cough (lasting longer than three weeks).
‘Coughs are often linked to viruses, such as COVID, but even viral coughs should get better within 2-3 weeks. If yours lingers or is accompanied by breathlessness or other unusual symptoms, get it checked out,’ says Dr. Kenny
Weight loss with no reason
If you’re losing weight without meaning to or trying to, it’s worth getting checked out by your GP.
‘Causes of unintentional weight loss can include a number of things from stress and depression to digestive issues, such as IBS. But it can also be caused by more serious conditions, such as type-2 diabetes and even cancer – and these need diagnosing and treating as soon as possible,’ says Dr. Kenny.
If you’ve not changed your diet or exercise your doctor can help rule out anything serious that may be causing it by running some tests and referring you to a specialist, if required.
A rash that doesn’t fade
Meningitis can be fatal if it isn’t caught and treated early on, which is why knowing one of its key symptoms is crucial.
‘A meningitis rash is unlike other viral rashes in that it doesn’t fade when you press a glass against the skin. Seeking medical help immediately for what’s called a non-blanching rash is crucial,’ says Dr. Kenny.
However, be aware that a patient with meningitis will be quite unwell with a fever, sickness, headache, and stiff neck so it’s important to see a doctor regardless of whether a rash appears as well.
Headache and stiff neck
Headaches are really common but when it’s a real splitting headache, how worried should you actually be?
‘The best thing to do is take some over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol. If that reduces the pain and it goes away, it’s unlikely to be anything of concern but of course, if it does return or get worse, or you’re getting unexplained recurrent headaches, see your doctor,’ says Dr. Kenny.
A bad headache can be a symptom of meningitis or worse, a brain tumor.
‘If your headache is severe and is accompanied by a fever, confusion, stiff neck, sickness, seizures, or anything else concerning or unusual for you, see your doctor as soon as possible,’ adds Dr. Kenny.
Drooping or facial weakness
A stroke can happen suddenly but the quicker it gets treated, the better the recovery. Facial drooping is a key warning sign, but there are others to be aware of, too.
According to the NHS, the main stroke symptoms can be remembered with the word FAST:
- Face – the face may have dropped on 1 side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped.
- Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in 1 arm.
- Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you’re saying to them.
- Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms.
‘It’s important for everyone to be aware of these signs and symptoms, particularly if you live with or care for someone in a high-risk group, such as someone who is elderly or who has diabetes or high blood pressure,’ says Dr. Kenny.
If you’re struggling with symptoms of low mood, for instance, anxiety, feeling sad, angry, or frustrated and they don’t go away after a couple of weeks, you could be suffering from depression.
‘Talk to your doctor who’ll be able to diagnose you and suggest a range of treatment options, including antidepressants, which can help get you back to feeling like you again,’ says Dr. Kenny.
If you’re female and in your 40s or 50s, symptoms of depression can be confused with symptoms of menopause or perimenopause. Brain fog, low mood, and anxiety can be misdiagnosed, so if you suspect these symptoms could be linked to hormones, see your doctor who can refer you for blood tests and an effective treatment for you, such as HRT.
Chest pain or breathing problems
Any problems with your breathing or chest pain need to be looked into as soon as possible.
The NHS advises calling 999 if you have sudden chest pain that:
- spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw
- makes your chest feel tight or heavy
- also started with shortness of breath, sweating, and feeling or being sick
- lasts more than 15 minutes
These could be symptoms of a heart attack and need immediate medical help.
‘However, if your chest pain comes and goes or causes breathlessness, it’s worth seeing your doctor. Chest pain can be caused by indigestion, anxiety, and a number of other manageable conditions, such as asthma,’ says Dr. Kenny
Always see your doctor for any unusual or worrying symptom you have and remember, ZoomDoc offers a same-day video call with a GP for just £35. Download the app and get your worries off your chest by tonight!