Five symptoms to never ignore

Dec. 17, 2018


A couple backpacks along a road.
Doctors say there are five health issues to never ignore.

A serious health issue can strike at any time. And in many cases, a fast reaction can make a big impact on outcomes.

Below, Dr. Nathan Anderson, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, outlines five symptoms to never ignore.

Pain in the chest

If you feel a crushing, heavy pain in your mid-chest, especially accompanied by nausea, sweating or shortness of breath, you may be having a heart attack and should seek medical help immediately. Remember that the pain can take different forms.

“It may be a sharp pain, one that comes and goes or is steady, one that isn’t too severe but seems odd,” Anderson said. “It may even be an unusual pain anywhere in the upper trunk – the mid-back, shoulder or base of the neck. Anything that causes unusual, severe pain warrants a trip to the emergency room.”

If chest pain strikes in the middle of the night, don’t try to ride it out and don’t worry about inconveniencing anyone.

“So many times people will say, ‘I didn’t think it was anything,’ or ‘I didn’t want to bother you,’” Anderson said. “But time is tissue. Injury can progress in untreated heart problems.”

Difficulty breathing

If you’re short of breath, drawing a breath without getting any benefit from the air, or having trouble breathing, seek medical attention. Asthma, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia and chronic lung disease may all be at fault.

“If it’s hard to breathe, that needs attention,” Anderson said. “Nothing is so elemental to life and imminently threatening as the inability to breathe.”

Pain in the abdomen

An unusual pain in the abdominal area, or anywhere below the ribs and above the hips, should be checked out. Of special concern are pains that are severe, new or accompanied by nausea, vomiting and fever.

Because there are a number of organs in the abdomen, there are various causes of pain, including appendicitis, kidney stones, gall stones, a tumor, diverticulitis and complications of undiagnosed pregnancies.

“The emergency room is setup 24/7, 365 days a year to evaluate patients and has access to on-call specialists should a patient require a consult,” Anderson said. “If it causes you to worry, and especially if you have other symptoms, I would rather you err on the side of caution and get checked.”

Stroke symptoms

If you have a hard time talking, controlling or moving limbs, or experience face weakness or drooping, you may be having a stroke. Seek help immediately. “Again, time is tissue, time is brain,” Anderson said. “The sooner we have a chance to diagnose and intervene, the better the outcome.”

Often with a stroke, it’s up to an observer to call 911 for help. “Someone experiencing a stroke really is in no position to do anything and must rely on those around them,” Anderson said.

Pain in the head

If you have a serious, sudden headache, especially with fever, confusion, faintness or loss of consciousness, head for the emergency department.

It’s important to react quickly, as a headache this intense could be the sign of serious issues, such as a stroke or very high blood pressure.

“More and more injury can be occurring as time is passing,” Anderson said. “As the National Institutes of Health says, ‘Time is brain.’”

With any medical concern, don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you feel it’s important. “It’s better to overreact and over respond and be reassured, then to underreact and under-respond and miss the boat on a chance to intervene meaningfully,” Anderson said.


This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Nov. 12, 2018.


About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at