No one wants to be the person who has their doctor on speed dial, but sometimes it can be tough to suss out on your own whether you’re dealing with a health issue that’s minor or that’s actually pretty major. And any MD will tell you it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So when in doubt, you should always give the pro a ring JIC if you feel off and on edge about it. But doctors say that’s *especiallytrue if you’re experiencing one of the potentially serious symptoms ahead.
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You see floaters
Floaters, or spots in your vision, could be no biggie…or they could be a sign of a more intense vision problem like retinal detachment, a retinal tear, or an inflammation in the eye, says JP Maszczak, OD, an assistant professor of clinical optometry at the Ohio State University College of Optometry. “Retinal tears and detachments, if not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner—often within 24 to 48 hours—may result in profound and permanent vision loss,” he says. So yeah, you want to get this checked out.
2 of 40
You have a high fever that won’t quit
A persistent hot fever could be due to any number of ailments, says Ayesha Cheema, MD, a primary care physician at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center. But the reason you want to contact your doctor is to rule out “serious things like bacterial infection and pneumonia,” she says. Call your doc if it’s not going down after you take an OTC fever reducer, and especially if you have other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, coughing, or a headache, she says.
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You have sudden, unexplained eye pain
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You have shortness of breath but have no idea why
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Your vision is suddenly blurry
“In general, sudden vision loss in a patient with more substantial chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol, could be the result of a systemic condition worsening over time,” Maszczak says. But, if you’re otherwise healthy, it could be a sign your eye prescription has changed or that you’re developing a more significant health issue like diabetes or multiple sclerosis.
6 of 40
You have sudden intense shoulder pain
This can be a sign of a heart attack. “I always advise people to take their symptoms seriously, especially when they come on suddenly or escalate rapidly,” Dr. Haythe says.
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You wear contacts and your eyes are red, watery, and painful
Wearing contacts “greatly magnifies” your risk of infection, Maszczak says, especially if you’re not 100 percent on top of cleaning your contacts well and replacing them on schedule. If you’re dealing with funky symptoms, call your doctor ASAP. “I’ve seen patients end up blind because they delayed in seeking care for even minor symptoms upon onset,” he says.
8 of 40
You have chest pressure
This can be a sign of a heart attack, an aortic dissection, a pulmonary embolism, an arrhythmia, and even pneumonia, Dr. Haythe says. Even if you get checked out and your chest pressure is nothing, you don’t want to let it slide.
9 of 40
You have double vision
Having double vision here and there, like when you’re totally wiped after a long day of work, is normal, Maszczak says. But getting double vision that comes out of nowhere, sticks around, and only goes away when you cover or close an eye means you need to get checked out. It could be a sign of high blood pressure, a stroke, or a “number of underlying causes,” Maszczak says.
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You have chest tightness
This is another symptom that can indicate a heart attack, an aortic dissection, a pulmonary embolism, or an arrhythmia, Dr. Haythe notes. Call your doctor and be prepared to talk about your other symptoms.
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You have weakness on one side of your body
“This may indicate a stroke,” says Russ Kino, MD, an emergency medicine specialist medical director of the Weingart Foundation Emergency Department at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. You’ll want to talk to your doctor “extremely quickly,” he says.
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You have chest pain
Chest pain is one of the classic symptoms of a heart attack, Dr. Haythe says. While it’s also possible that you’re dealing with something like reflux, this really isn’t something you want to wait on. (One note: Chest pain, pressure, and tightness all sound pretty similar but may feel like different sensations. So if your chest area and breathing just feels, well, off to you, give your doc a ring.)
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You have dizziness with chest pain
Dizziness can be caused by a number of things, but having dizziness along with chest pain is usually a sign that something isn’t right with your heart, Dr. Haythe says.
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You have leg or foot pain that gets worse at night
This could be a sign of a stress fracture (which will only get worse if you keep walking on it), or it could be a sign of a blood clot, Dr. Kino says.
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You have throat pain that started in your chest
When you have throat pain, you naturally assume you “just” have a sore throat. But if it started in your chest and moved to your throat, it could be a sign of a heart issue, Dr. Haythe says.
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Your breathing is rapid out of nowhere
“This is a big one,” Dr. Kino says. While it could be due to an underlying condition like asthma, it could also be caused by a blood clot in your lung or a problem with your heart.
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You broke into a sweat and you don’t know why
This could be a sign of a fever but, if your temperature is normal, it’s time to call your doctor. Again, it could be a symptom of a heart attack, an aortic dissection, a pulmonary embolism, or an arrhythmia, Dr. Haythe says.
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You suddenly have a stiff neck and a headache
A stiff neck without a headache is usually due to a muscle spasm, Dr. Kino says. “But a headache and stiff neck, along with sensitivity to light could indicate an infection around the brain,” he says.
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You have swollen legs, feet, or ankles
Swelling in the feet and ankles that comes out of nowhere can be a sign of congestive heart failure, liver disease, and even cancer, Dr. Haythe says.
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You burned yourself and you’re not sure how bad it is
“It is very difficult to tell how serious a burn is initially,” Dr. Kino says. “It can look fairly benign when, in fact, it’s very deep.” Call your doctor to talk it out, and to get after-care advice.
21 of 40
It feels like your heart is skipping beats
This isn’t normal, Dr. Haythe points out. While it could be due to something relatively harmless, it also could be a sign of a serious problem that only your physician can figure out.
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You have lower right back pain
If you didn’t recently pull a muscle, this could be a sign of appendicitis. “That’s an urgent problem,” Dr. Kino says.
23 of 40
You think you have the flu
Your doctor may want to prescribe you medication like Tamiflu over the phone (to keep you from coming in and infecting other patients) or they might want to see you ASAP. If you have an underlying condition like diabetes or you’re immunosuppressed, the flu can be “very serious,” Dr. Kino says. So, don’t write it off.
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You’ve been puking for more than a day
While this can happen with some foodborne and viral illnesses, your doctor will want to know about it and make sure you’re getting better. Dehydration and a change in electrolytes is a big concern, Dr. Kino says, so be prepared to talk about your peeing habits and color while you’re at it.
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You’ve had diarrhea for more than a day
This can be even worse than puking for a day, Dr. Kino says. “It can drop your potassium level very low and lead to other serious complications,” he says.
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You haven’t peed in six hours or longer
This can be a sign of dehydration or even kidney failure, Dr. Kino says. If you can, drink more water and see where that gets you. If you’re still struggling, call your doctor.
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Your pulse is racing and you don’t know why
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It really, really hurts to swallow
If it really hurts to swallow, like you’re having trouble even swallowing the spit that’s normally in your mouth, you need to call your doctor. “That’s a warning sign,” Dr. Kino says.
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Your cold has gotten so bad, you’re struggling to breathe
That could be a sign of pneumonia, Dr. Cheema says. “You shouldn’t wait—reach out at the first sign of any difficulty breathing,” she says.
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It hurts when you pee
This could be a sign of a urinary infection, Dr. Cheema says. “A lot of times patients will try to drink water and wait it out, but if you’re consistently having pain, definitely let your doctor know,” she says.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more.
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