Should I Call My Doctor? How to know it’s time to pay your doctor a visit

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Provided by Novant Health UVA

Everyone feels a little out of sorts every now and then. So when do you call your doctor for a visit without thinking you’re behaving like a hypochondriac? It can be hard to decide what symptoms are serious enough to warrant making an appointment. Sometimes the symptoms can appear unclear.

For example, warning signs of heart attack in women and men are different. While chest pain is a common indicator in men, only about half of women who have a heart attack will complain of chest pain, according to the National Institutes of Health. Instead, women often have different warning signs, such as fatigue, nausea and neck and jaw pain.

If you’re having symptoms related to a heart attack, trouble breathing, severe abdominal pain or are bleeding profusely, call 911 or have someone accompany you to a hospital’s emergency room.

If a spouse or family member voices concerns that you look pale or sweaty and urges you to go to the ER, head to the hospital right away, warned Dr. James Min, a family physician at Novant Health UVA Health System Bull Run Family Medicine in Haymarket.

“Timing is very important for getting treatment in case of a stroke or heart attack,” Min said. “Symptoms of stroke include tingling and numbness in the face, arm and leg, confusion, dizziness, trouble seeing and speaking.” These symptoms require immediate medical attention.

Likewise, chest pain or pain in the arms, neck and jaw, shortness of breath, nausea or cold sweats could indicate a heart attack. If you experience any of these, head to the nearest ER for help. “Getting treated in a catheterization lab quickly can prevent permanent damage to the heart,” Min said. Sometimes the symptoms aren’t as dramatic, so what to do? Calling your doctor’s office for advice is a good first step. A nurse can offer further suggestions over the phone.

If you have a chronic condition, have a conversation with your primary care doctor about symptoms for your condition to learn what is normal and what isn’t, so you have clarity about when you need professional help.

Min said that people with chronic conditions like diabetes should see their doctors every three months. He said health care today is more of a partnership than it used to be. “In the old days, a doctor would tell you what to do,” he said. “Today, I ask ‘what are you concerned about?’”

Not every pain is a sign of a major illness, but it’s good to be aware of the body and mind. When in doubt about calling the doctor, remember it’s always better to be safe than sorry because your life may depend on it.


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