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Don't Ignore These Symptoms!


Symptom What It May Mean

Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath Obstructive pulmonary disease (asthma or emphysema), bronchitis, heart problems, panic attacks, pneumonia, a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), pulmonary fibrosis, anemia, upper airway obstruction, overdose, or collapsed lung

Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure Heart attack, tearing of the aorta, pancreatitis, pulmonary embolism, inflammation around the heart, gallbladder attack, ulcers, or pneumonia

Fainting, sudden dizziness or weakness Heart attack, stroke, abnormal heart rhythm, heart valve abnormalities, or seizures

Changes in vision Stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), bleeding in the inside of the eye, or clotting of the blood vessels of the eye

Confusion or changes in mental status Infection, head injury, low blood sugar, medication interaction or overdose, meningitis, or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)

Any sudden or severe headache Stroke, blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis), meningitis, brain tumor, ruptured aneurysm (weakened blood vessel), brain abscess, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or bleeding on the brain after a head injury

Uncontrolled bleeding Cancer, leukemia, low platelets, or liver failure

Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea Gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach), gallbladder attack, appendicitis, hepatitis, pancreatitis, obstruction of the bowel, infection in the abdominal cavity, or pregnancy

Coughing blood Tuberculosis, cancer, pneumonia, bronchitis

Vomiting blood Inflammation of the esophagus or stomach, ulcers, varices (torn blood vessels at the end of the esophagus), or cancer

Suicidal or homicidal feelings Depression, mental health problems

Unexplained weight loss Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), depression, liver disease, cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, AIDS, or disorders that interfere with how well your body absorbs nutrients (malabsorption disorders)

Unexplained changes in bowel habits Bacterial or viral infection, parasitic infection, inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, or medication side effects

Unusual weakness or fatigue Heart attack (especially in women or the elderly), heart failure, anemia, low thyroid (hypothyroidism), liver or kidney disease

Loss of consciousness after a fall Bleeding around the brain (subdural hematoma), especially in people on blood thinners

Thirst and frequent urination Diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus (inability to concentrate urine)

New onset of seizures Brain tumor, bleeding on or in the brain, or vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels in your brain), blood electrolyte abnormalities, stroke, meningitis, or encephalitis

Persistent fever Tuberculosis, endocarditis (bacterial infection of the heart valves), vasculitis, tumor, lymphoma, lupus, or malaria (if you've traveled to malaria-prone regions of the world), other infections

Trouble swallowing or painful swallowing Esophageal cancer or throat cancer, infection of the throat or esophagus, neurologic problems, or AIDS

Persistent hoarseness Throat cancer or other malignancies

Severe, incapacitating back pain Myeloma, metastatic cancer, leaking aortic aneurysm or torn aorta, epidural abscess (abscess around spinal cord), shingles, or slipped or herniated discs

Hot, tender, or swollen joints Joint infection, acute arthritis, gout, or vasculitis

Severe diarrhea Infection due to viruses, bacteria, or parasites, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), or AIDS

Excerpted from How Not to Die by Jan Garavaglia, M.D.
Copyright © 2008 by Atlas Media Corp. and Jan Garavaglia, M.D.
Permission granted by Crown Publishers, New York, NY


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