Time to See a Doctor

Knowing the subtle signs that you need to see the doctor is very important in preventing any disease from causing severe complications and even death. Delay in seeing the doctor or visiting the health facility is commonest among low-socioeconomic countries but it is present in some degrees in all countries of the world. Because of these, the concept of healthcare delays has been seriously talked about in recent times.

The reasons why you need to seek the care of a doctor are now quite obvious, however, it is important you know how to interpret ominous signs that you need to see a doctor immediately. As you read on, you will see these subtle signs that you have to visit the hospital now.

Signs you need to see a doctor urgently

1. Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Shortness of breath or difficulty with breathing can be a sign of an underlying respiratory or cardiac condition that needs to be evaluated immediately. Conditions like asthma, COPD, or foreign body aspiration into the airway can cause shortness of breath. Shortness of breath almost always indicates a serious medical problem, especially if you did not carry out any physical activity significant enough to cause it.

2. Severe or worsening headache

Headache is not always a small sign to ignore. It is important you know when you need to see a doctor when you have a headache? Headaches from common non-compliant causes usually respond to rehydration/drinking of water, rest, feeding, taking of deeper breaths, or OTC analgesic medications. However, when it is persistent and unresolved but increasingly becoming worse, it means you need to see a doctor urgently before it gets even more problematic.

3. Severe chest tightness or palpitation

Everyone experiences chest pain and palpitation but chest tightness is a sign you should never ignore. Chest tightness can be described as an inability to breathe properly because of a perceived feeling of tightness or pain in the chest. Chest tightness can indicate that there is a pulled chest muscle or muscle strain, heartburn, peptic ulcer, asthma, anxiety, or heart problems.

For sake of the uncertainty about what might be causing you chest tightness or palpitations, it is important that you contact your doctor when you notice these symptoms. And if these persist long enough to cause significantly more distress, check into the hospital to see your doctor for further evaluation and treatments.

4. Intractable vomiting

Vomiting can be a sign of more severe disease conditions like appendicitis, raised pressure in the skull – Intracranial Pressure (ICP) caused by tumour or infection, or obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract.

Vomiting in children is even more sinister. Factors like lighter skin, poor fluid regulation, and low blood volume make children more susceptible to the effects of vomiting and dehydration. Children might also not be able to effectively replenish fluid through drinking like adults. Thus, gastrointestinal diseases like diarrhoea and vomiting have been ranked as some of the greatest childhood killer diseases.

In any of these cases of vomiting, it is important you seek the expert attention of a doctor urgently to avoid more severe/life-threatening complications.

5. High Fever

Fever is always a sign of an underlying problem in the body and needs to be attended to urgently. The specific causes of fever are broad and hard to identify without good clinical evaluation. When it is associated with other symptoms like headache, chest pain, abdominal pain, etc, the diagnosis may differ depending on the specific additional symptom.

High-grade fever is described as a body temperature greater than or equal to 103°F or 39°C. For children, high-grade fever is taken as 102°F or 38.9°C. This oftentimes indicates a serious underlying cause and needs the contribution of a health expert, particularly the physician.

6. Persistent abdominal pain or bloating

Pain on the upper part of the abdomen close to the middle chest often indicates peptic ulcer or gastritis. Pain in the lower right and left abdomen generally indicates a problem with other abdominal organs like the liver, spleen, and pancreas. Pain on the flanks indicates a problem with the kidneys. While lower abdominal pain often indicates issues with organs of the genitourinary tract like the bladder, ovaries, and uterus.

Once you notice abdominal pain that has persisted beyond 3-5 days, you should see the doctor immediately. It is also important for you to note the character of the pain (dull, sharp, burning, etc), if it radiates or spread to other parts of the body, and if it is associated with any time of the day, meals, etc. These are some of the questions your doctor would like to know about when evaluating you.

7. Unprovoked back or joint pain

Unprovoked acute back or joint pain is another important sign you need to see a doctor. Acute pain refers to any type of pain of sudden onset while chronic pain is any pain that has been for some time. Acute pain is usually more severe and life-threatening than chronic pain, and thus, you need to urgently see a doctor if you are having acute back or joint pain.

Pain is often a warning sign that something is going wrong in your body, and when it persists particularly on the back or at a joint, despite conservative management and over-the-counter medications, you need to see the doctor immediately. Persistent back pain lasting greater than 2-3 weeks is a major sign you need to see your doctor now.

8. Struggling with an addiction

Very few people know that their primary healthcare doctors can help them when they are struggling with an addiction, but this is the fact. Doctors can help you start your recovery from addiction by prescribing helpful medications and can refer you to a rehabilitation centre while still keeping an eye on your progress.

9. Any abnormal signs during pregnancy

Every unusual symptom during pregnancy is enough reason to see your doctor. It is recommended that pregnant women book antenatal clinics as early as 7-8 weeks of pregnancy (that is about a month after missing your period with a positive pregnancy test). This ensures that your doctor offers specialised care throughout your pregnancy and attends to all abnormal symptoms you might experience.

10. Seizure or vision loss

The presence of a seizure always indicates a problem with the brain or its covering. It may be due to traumatic or metabolic causes, tumours of the brain, infections, etc.

Visual loss can accompany a seizure or occur on its own. It could be sudden/acute or insidious. When associated with pain, it means something different as well. Any of these cases reflects a more sinister underlying condition that needs the attention of a physician.


It is important to always remember that failure to see the doctor on time can lead to more severe/life-threatening complications and preventable death. Hence, it is important to know these subtle signs that you need to see a doctor urgently.

By Caitlyn

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