The warning signs of a serious illness

We all know that a runny nose is a classic symptom of a common cold and an itchy skin rash is often a sign of an allergy. But what are the warnings of serious and even life-threatening illness?

1. Thirst, passing urine more frequently, and fatigue. These are typical of diabetes. Get your urine or blood checked for glucose levels urgently. There are probably 500,000 people out there with undiagnosed diabetes right now – all running an increased risk of complications unless it is treated.

Find out if you are at risk of diabetes

2. Headache, fever, stiff neck, a dislike of bright lights, nausea and vomiting.  Could be the onset of meningitis. Even earlier signs include cold hands and feet, pallor of the skin, and aches and pains in the joints. Seconds count with meningitis so ask for professional help urgently.

3. Fever, cough, breathlessness and chest pain when breathing in. Sounds like a classic case of pneumonia, whether the cough is productive or not. Get your doctor to listen to your lungs and arrange an x-ray if necessary.

4. Pain in groin area. Excruciatingly sharp pain anywhere from your loin down towards your groin area with or without blood in your urine. Anyone who has had a kidney stone will recognise these symptoms. Worse pain than childbirth, they say!

5. Dull aching pain in the calf muscle. If the pain comes on within a minute or two of walking and disappears when you stop, this is known as ‘intermittent claudication’ – cramp in the muscle caused by narrowed arteries which cannot supply sufficient
oxygen during exercise.

Read our tips on the best way to build healthy bones

6. Distortion of vertical lines in your field of vision. This, plus the blurring of words on a printed page or the middle of people’s faces, is suggestive of age-related macular degeneration – one of the leading causes of blindness in the UK. Get
that optician’s appointment as soon as possible and referral on to an eye specialist if it is confirmed.

7. Numbness or pins and needles in your thumb and adjacent two and a half fingers. Especially if this occurs first thing in the morning, it may be due to entrapment of the median nerve at the wrist – something called ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’. A cortisone injection or decompression surgery can put it right.

8. Back pain with pain radiating down into the buttock or down the back of the leg. Sciatica is caused by a prolapsed intervertebral disc pressing on one of the spinal nerves supplying sensation to the legs. It may settle with medication, as only a small
percentage will require surgical intervention.

Have a healthy retirement

9. Sporadic gripey abdominal pain with wind, bloating and alternating diarrhoea and constipation. Irritable bowel syndrome affects as many as 15 per cent of the entire population. It is essential to rule out more serious underlying conditions however, so
speak to your doctor to organise any appropriate tests.

10. Bruising without any obvious trauma. Some people are slightly deficient in clotting proteins throughout their lives and always ‘bruise easily’. If it is a new symptom however, it could point to a bone marrow disorder – even leukaemia – so a simple blood test is essential.

Symptoms, worrying though they can sometimes be, are our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. That way, we can do something about it. Always consider your symptoms carefully, and, if there is no simple explanation for them, and if they persist, go and see
your doctor.

Read more health advice for common conditions on 

See also: The Dangers of High Blood Pressure

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