Though we all know that making a doctor's appointment when we're worried about our health is the right/ mature/ healthy thing to do, many of us will still do pretty much anything short of faking our own death to get out of seeing the doctor. This isn't great, of course — staying in the dark about your own health, just because you're freaked out, is never a good call — but it's also pretty understandable. Lots of us have had negative experiences involving a doctor's office — say, unexpected medical bills for what we thought was going to be a routine exam, an insurance mix-up where we ended up paying way more than we planned, a run-in with an insensitive doctor who shamed us about our body or life — that make us think we might be better off just avoiding the entire thing. Maybe you're shy or anxious, and afraid to talk to someone you barely know about your weirdest pains or some mysterious liquids that have been oozing out of your orifices. Maybe you're worried that if you go to the doctor and turn out to be fine, they'll be made at your for wasting their time. Maybe you just work a tight schedule that doesn't give you any free time, so you just try to do the best you can with home remedies and web resources.
Like I said, it's a totally understandable attitude. But it's also very bad news for your health. There's a definite cap on the number of health problems you can solve yourself with an online symptom checker or a trip to the drug store — and applying that D.I.Y. spirit to serious health problems can cause real trouble.
Bustle spoke to Dr. Jennifer Caudle, Family Physician and Assistant Professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, who said that there's no reason to get nervous about whether a symptom is "serious enough" to call your doctor about: "If you're worried about something, then there's a good chance that I might be, as well. It doesn't necessarily mean that we'll be worried to the same extent...but if something is concerning you, that is enough of a reason to seek out medical care. I think that people really should listen to their bodies." Which makes sense — we may not have medical degrees, but we know when something feels "off" in our bodies better than anyone else.
And Caudle not only affirmed that we should err on the side of caution when it comes to our health — she also told us that doctors don't mind seeing patients who turn out to not actually be sick: "I want to see patients, even if it turns out to be nothing — I can simply reassure you [or tell you what it isn't, and discuss what it could be or is a sign of]. That's a really good place for education.'"
So don't second-guess yourself when it comes to health concerns — and make sure you absolutely give your doctor a call if you experience any of the seven symptoms below.
1. You Have Vaginal Discharge Or Irritation
Not all vaginal discharge is a cause for concern — most of us have healthy discharge throughout the month which changes depending on where we are in our cycle. However, unusual vaginal discharge is reason to call a doctor, and not something to try to treat at home through over-the-counter remedies. According to the Mayo Clinic's website, discharge with a green or yellow tint, or discharge that is thick or has a cottage cheese-like consistency merits a trip to the doctor, as does a strong and unusual vaginal odor, or redness, irritation, burning, or itching in or around the vulva. And if your vaginal discharge is accompanied by a fever, get to a doctor ASAP — the pairing can be a sign of a serious infection.
2. You're Experiencing Burning With Urination
Though you've probably heard a ton of jokes in your life about people experiencing "burning sensations," anyone who's woken up for their usual morning trip to the bathroom, only to feel like they're pushing a pile of broken glass through their urethra, can tell you that feeling a burn when you pee is not very funny. And it is definitely a sign that you should see a doctor! Burning or other pain during urination can be a sign of a number of problems, including a urinary tract infection; chlamydia, herpes, and other STDs; an infection of the urethra; and a number of other health issues that require professional treatment.
And not getting treatment can have very real repercussions — an untreated UTI, for example, can go on to become a kidney infection if not properly treated, while untreated chlamydia can turn into pelvic inflammatory disease, a disease which can interfere with your future ability to get pregnant.
3. You Have Blood In Your Urine
Similar to burning with urination, blood in your urine is a sign that something serious is going on — a problem that you absolutely need a doctor's help to take care of. Blood in your urine can be a sign of a UTI, kidney infection, or kidney stones, as well as kidney disease (which can be a sign of another health issue, like diabetes, or a stand-alone disease), sickle cell anemia, or cancer. Sometimes, blood that appears to be in the urine can also come from other sources, like the vagina or the anus — it's still a great idea to call a doctor in these cases, as any blood in the toilet bowl could be unhealthy.
Even if you don't feel like you're at risk for any of these issues, please call your doctor your urine has a red or rosy hue, or if you are passing actual blood clots while urinating — no matter what is causing this situation, you should talk to your doctor about it.
4. You Have Unusual Back Pain
It often feels like a little bit of periodic back pain is the price we pay for living in these fragile meat-suits called human bodies. However, you can certainly see a doctor for help with run-of-the-mill strain of your back muscles — and you should definitely see them if you experience any unusual back pain, which can be a sign of problems far more severe than lifting a too-heavy grocery bag.
Certain kinds of back pain can signal issues like nerve problems or kidney infection. According to pain specialist William O. Witt, MD, director of UK HealthCare's Interventional Pain Associates, speaking to Everyday Health, "back pain may be a symptom of something much more serious, including heart attack, aortic aneurysm, abdominal and pelvic inflammation, cancer and many other diseases." Of course, that doesn't mean you need to panic that your throbbing lower back is a sign that you have a serious illness — but it is a sign that you should make a doctor's appointment to discuss your back pain.
How can you tell if your back pain is appointment-worthy? If the pain hasn't improved after a week; if it extends down one or both legs (and especially if it extends through the leg, past the knee); if it's worse at certain times of day, or is constant and intense; if it is accompanied by numbness, weakness, or tingling in your legs (or anywhere else in the body); and if it has developed following an accident or physical injury of any sort, you need to get yourself to a doctor.
And according to the Mayo Clinic's website, if your back pain begins the same time as a fever, if it leads to bladder or bowel control problems, or if it occurred after a high-impact accident (sports, car, or just a bad fall), call 911 or get to an emergency room immediately.
5. You've Had A Fever For Several Days
Fevers are scary, but one that only lasts a day or two is nothing to worry about (it definitely sucks, of course, but it is nothing to worry about). A fever that lasts longer, however, could be abnormal — according to the Mayo Clinic's website, a fever that rises to 103 degrees or higher, or lasts for over three days, means you should seek out a doctor's help. And Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publications advises seeing a doctor immediately if you have a fever (of any temperature) accompanied by a stiff neck, trouble breathing, confusion, loss of consciousness, severe pain or swelling in any area of the body, discolored or foul-smelling vaginal discharge, painful urination, odd-smelling urine, or seizures.
6. You're Having Chest Pains
Chest pains are, without a doubt, one of the most terrifying medical problems to have, and the kind of medical problem that will almost always benefit from a professional medical examination, even if the pains themselves are not physically dangerous. I had a period of time a few years ago when I was having chest pains and heart palpitations, and was sure I was dying; a doctor's visit revealed that I actually was just having panic attacks, from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. So while I didn't get the dire prognosis I had feared, I did get diagnosed with a real medical problem — one I probably never would have caught if I hadn't made that doctor's appointment.
A wide range of different kinds of chest pains can be a sign of real danger — though that doesn't always mean that they're signs of a heart attack. In fact, according to Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publications, only 20 percent of the millions of Americans who come to emergency rooms complaining of chest pains each year are actually experiencing a heart attacks or unstable angina (a warning sign that a heart attack may be on the horizon).
But just because chest pain isn't a sign of a heart attack, doesn't mean it's nothing to worry about. Chest pain can be a sign of a blood clot in the lungs, tear in the heart, or other less serious (but still important) issue like heart burn, nerve pain, asthma, or pneumonia. You should see a doctor as soon as possible if your chest pains are accompanied by nausea, dizziness, trouble breathing, fever, fatigue, or any other out-of-the-ordinary symptoms.
But no matter the cause, you shouldn't try to wait out your chest pain, or "fix" it on your own — your doctor will help you, even if they just give you the peace of mind that it's nothing.
And remember, feeling "pain, pressure or discomfort in the center of your chest or in your arms, back, jaw, neck or stomach — along with shortness of breath, a cold sweat, nausea, fatigue or lightheadedness for at least five minutes" can all be signs of a heart attack, according to the Cleveland Clinic's website, so call 911 or get straight to an emergency room. Young people in good physical shape can have heart attacks, too.
7. You're Getting Unusual Headaches
Obviously, you don't have to run to the doctor every time you get an aching in your temples. But certain kinds of headaches can be a sign of head injury, a stroke, or of an illness like meningitis — and other kinds of headaches might be a sign that you suffer from migraines, and could benefit from professional treatment.
So how can you tell a run-of-the-mill stress headache from something that needs a doctor's attention? According to the Mayo Clinic's website, you should see a doctor if your headaches don't improve after you take over-the-counter painkillers; keep you from working, socializing or sleeping; are triggered by coughing or exercise; or have become more frequent or severe in nature.
And if you experience a severe headache that is accompanied by nausea, fever, fainting, dizziness, confusion, fever, neck stiffness, nausea, numbness or weakness on one side of your body, or trouble walking or speaking, immediately seek emergency medical care.
None of this information is intended to freak you out, of course; odds are, your headache is just a headache. But it pays to remember: your doctor won't be mad at you for wasting their time if you come in with a problem that turns out to be nothing. As Dr. Caudle told Bustle, "Do not feel like you're bothering us...I always tell [my patients], 'Don't apologize. That's what I'm here for.'"
Images: Andrew Zaeh/ Bustle; Giphy