Medically reviewed by Dr Ho Ying Jie, M.B.B.S (Singapore)
With Healthier SG on the horizon, Singapore is encouraging everyone to take greater ownership of their own health. This means that regular visits to your doctor for check-ins are an important part of maintaining good health. However, there are certain signs and symptoms that should not be ignored and require immediate attention from a healthcare professional.
Here are some signs which could point towards potentially serious underlying causes. If you exhibit these symptoms, it is strongly advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible.
1. Chronic Pain
Chronic pain or persistent pain is defined as pain lasting more than three to six months and is a common symptom that can be caused by a variety of health conditions. A survey done in Singapore shows that 49% of Singaporeans experienced persistent pain for more than six months but 33% of Singaporeans will only start treatment after a few weeks. Left untreated, chronic pain can lead to mortality. Studies have shown that severe chronic pain has a higher association with mortality rates. Aside from that, persistent pain can also affect one’s mood and interfere with our quality of life.
Consult with a doctor will help to uncover the underlying cause of pain (mechanical or functional) and they may also be able to determine if there are any psychological influences that can amplify the pain experience. Pain management requires a multi-pronged approach of both medication and lifestyle changes and with timely intervention, treatment can help improve symptoms and restore one’s way of life.
2. Unexplained Weight Loss
Unexplained weight loss is defined as losing more than 3kg in the three to six months. Weight loss is a common side effect of cancer and often times might be the first warning sign. Therefore, unintentional weight loss is not something to be ignored and a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible to determine the underlying cause so that there can be timely treatment.
3. Changes in Bowel Habits
Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea or constipation, can be a sign of a digestive health problem. Even though these changes in one’s stool frequency, calibre or consistency is usually experienced by all at some point in their lives due to stress or a change in the environment, it can also point to a more serious underlying condition. Your doctor will then be able to advise if these changes in bowel habits are due to alterations in your diet or lifestyle, or if further testing is required, especially if these changes are accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain or bleeding. Certain conditions that can cause a change in bowel habits include bowel infection, haemorrhoids or piles, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease or Colorectal cancer.
4. Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)
Dyspnea, also known as shortness of breath, can happen even at rest without engaging in any sort of strenuous activity. It can be due to acute asthma, exacerbation, pneumothorax and more. These conditions are not caused by the immediate environment and you should seek medical advice as soon as possible, especially if there are other concerning symptoms such as chest pains.
If you are often out of breath for prolonged periods, it could be a sign of a respiratory health problem, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic dyspnoea is defined as shortness of breath lasting longer than a month and it usually has a different set of causes from acute dyspnoea. It is highly advisable for one to quickly seek medical treatment in such cases so that the doctor can diagnose and propose an appropriate treatment plan.
5. Chest Pain
Chest pain can be a sign of a serious health condition such as a heart attack. Hence, it is vital to never ignore chest pains as it is the most common symptom of coronary artery disease. Heart-related chest pains can be identified if there is a squeezing or strangling sensation in the chest area above the stomach. The pain tends to radiate towards the neck, jaw, left arm and even the back.
However, it is also important to note that there are many causes for chest pains and could be due to muscular, lung or gastrointestinal reasons. Therefore, it is important to consult a doctor for any chest pain that you have so that the proper diagnosis can be made.
6. Skin Changes
Cells of the skin and underlying tissue may accumulate and cause growths which can vary in colour, size and thickness. While most skin growths are benign and usually more of a cosmetic concern, changes in your skin, such as the appearance of a new mole or changes in the colour or size of an existing mole, can be a sign of skin cancer. Most skin cancers can be cured when detected early. Thus, it is vital that you see a doctor if you have any suspicions that your skin changes may be cancerous in nature.
Fever is a common symptom that can be caused by a variety of health conditions, including infections, dehydration and overheating. If you are experiencing mild fever with temperatures below 38°C, it is advisable to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Fevers at this temperature are usually not a cause for concern and can be remedied at home. However, if your temperature is consistently above 38°C for more than three days or there are accompanying symptoms such as severe headaches, a loss of appetite, body and joint aches, nausea, vomiting, or fatigue, it could mean that there is a more serious cause of your fever. It is important to seek medical attention immediately to determine if you are suffering from any other illnesses such as dengue fever which can be fatal if left untreated.
These are some signs which may require immediate medical attention. This list is non-exhaustive and you should always seek medical treatment when in doubt. Keystone Clinic & Surgery is well equipped to handle your medical needs and our doctors are proficient in carrying out investigations and procedures if required. If necessary, we are also able to refer you to our partners for further investigations and treatment. All in all, early intervention can save lives and getting timely treatment can help to increase the rates of recovery and give you a greater peace of mind.