Monday, 25 May 2020

Don’t ignore a serious medical problem just because your GP’s busy

HAVING been in lockdown for several weeks now, I am sure most people are aware that there are signs the restrictions may be eased at some stage in the near future.

As difficult as these weeks have been, they really have had a big impact on the ability of the health services to cope.

This should not be forgotten, nor should the fact that, when the restrictions are eased, there is the potential for numbers of cases to increase once more.

To that end, please continue to follow all the guidelines, whether that be in full lockdown or a lighter set of rules.

As I have written before, what that doesn’t mean is that you should ignore other health issues. While many people are finding out that you don’t actually need to go to a GP or to accident and emergency quite so readily, others are staying away when they shouldn’t.

It is the latter group that is becoming more and more of a concern to us healthcare professionals. Serious conditions do not go away in situations such as this, so I thought it worth highlighting some of the things that you should NOT be ignoring.

Cancer is the most obvious among these. Unfortunately, the disease can be rather difficult to detect even at the best of times but there are things that we doctors look out for in particular:

• Unexplained weight loss

• A change in bowel habit over a period of six weeks, particularly if your stools have become very loose

• Dark blood in the stools

• A cough without any other obvious cause for six weeks or more.

• Sore throat or hoarseness without an obvious cause for six weeks or more

• A skin lesion that is changing colour, growing, bleeding or persistently itching

• Abnormal vaginal bleeding (any form of vaginal bleeding if you are postmenopausal)

• Blood in the urine

• Lumps in the breast or bleeding from the nipple

If you have experienced any of these symptoms, it is certainly something you should at least be speaking to your GP about.

Of course, there are less serious explanations for the above than cancer but nevertheless it is likely your doctor will want to see you.

Although many appointments are taking place over the phone at the moment, that does not mean doors are closed and there is a concern that cancer detection is an area which could potentially suffer as a result of people staying away.

Screening services such as breast cancer and cervical screening are also being affected by a similar reluctance to attend but they are of vital importance if we are to keep our cancer detection rates up.

Cancer aside, there are also reports that people are ignoring other serious acute symptoms. Chest pain is a good example.

If you have chest discomfort or pain, often described as a pressure or as if someone is sitting on your chest, you must call 999 or go to A&E in case you are experiencing a heart attack or unstable angina.

If you experience such a symptom for a few minutes and then it goes, you must not then leave it as sometimes it can be a precursor to a more serious episode.

Like everything else, there is often a more benign explanation for such symptoms, including indigestion or muscular aching but with something this serious it is not worth the risk.

During a heart attack, you may also experience shortness of breath, sweating and/or radiation of the pain into the arms or the jaw but not always. A stroke is another area in which people may potentially be putting themselves at risk.

Obviously major strokes are difficult to miss but smaller ones can be overlooked, particularly at the moment. Look out for fleeting loss of power in a limb, episodes of facial droop or difficulty in speaking. People often describe being unable to say the word they mean for a short time.

Even if the symptoms resolve, it may have been caused by a transient ischaemic attack, which needs seeing to. While the symptoms are still present, however, it is 999 and straight to A&E.

This selection of more serious issues is by no means exhaustive and there are plenty of other reasons you should be contacting us should the need arise.

If you are concerned that your blood pressure may be high. for example, give us a call rather than leaving it. Likewise, if you’ve noticed a lump somewhere and it is concerning you, don’t decide to get it checked once the lockdown is over, get it checked now. As always, the NHS website is a mine of information on how to treat yourself as long as you are confident that you don’t have a worrying symptom.

However, I would implore you not to overlook something that is worrying you. If not seen to now, you may be in a far worse position a few months down the line when the secondary issues begin to emerge from untreated health conditions.

As always, common sense should continue to prevail throughout this pandemic and with everyone’s co-operation, we should emerge from it in a good position.

Once again, please be aware of the many support groups available. Along with many local businesses, they are carrying out superb work in the community.

Many have enlisted volunteers whose generosity and hard work is very much appreciated.

Keep up the good work and remember, everyone, continue to stay at home unless you have a legitimate reason to go out.

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