When I read about the possible "missed" cancer diagnosis mentioned in this article, my heart sank. It made me think of at least 10 people who had similar disheartening stories.
I'm a doctor, so I may be seeing a disproportionate amount of people with stories like these. I don't mean to be alarmist or steer anyone away from self-healing or Eastern medicine. I just want you to be alert to some common warning signs that shouldn't be ignored. Maybe you can help a colleague, loved one, or even an acquaintance who shows any of the signs below.
Why shouldn't you try to use natural diet, herbs, and self care first all the time?
In one case, I vividly remember a young 19 year-old who came in with back pain and a headache. He had been dealing with it for the entire weekend but it was getting severe.
He was at the pinnacle of health, especially for a teenager: fit, healthy diet, and he was even an alternative medicine enthusiast. However, something was wrong and he could barely finish a sentence without cringing in pain. I was a resident in the ER at Beth Israel in Boston and as soon as I saw him, I worried that something was really wrong.
"Why did you wait so long to come the emergency room?" I asked.
"I was trying a few things at home to see if I could avoid going to the doctor."
But, in his case, waiting was not the right answer. Because of the severity of pain, he was sent for imaging, which showed a ascending aortic aneurysm that was ruptured (a leaking hole in the main artery of the body, which is very rare). Quickly he was rushed to the operating room to try to fix it. But it was too late.
I cannot express the sorrow I felt for him and his family that night. I couldn't focus when my night shift ended. I couldn't sleep and had a pit in my stomach. As an ER team, we discussed the painful details the next morning to the weeping family.
Unfortunate things happen everyday and we see them in our hospital. I am by no means telling you to rush to the doctor at every ache. However, please recognize that sometimes Western medicine saves lives.
Here are, in my opinion, the top situations where you should see a physician or go to your emergency room as soon as you can:
1. You have a fever or chills that won't go away.
Persistent fever (for a week or more) can signal a hidden infection, which could be anything from a urinary tract infection to pneumonia. In some cases, cancers (such as lymphoma) can cause prolonged or persistent fevers. Medications and autoimmune problems can do this as well. If you have a high fever, meaning 103 F (39.4 C) or higher that lasts for a week or more — see a doctor.
2. You are losing weight or gaining weight without trying.
A 10 to 20-pound weight loss or weight gain in a month or less, with no cause, is something you need to investigate. There are so many possibilities—the worst being cancer and autoimmune issues—but also thyroid problems, diabetes, and even stress can lead to sudden weight changes. With certain gynecological cancers, the only sign is sudden weight gain/loss.
3. You have a severe headache.
The above example of the young man was a very rare one. It's unclear if he could have been saved if he'd visited the ER earlier, but modern emergency surgery is amazing at saving people from ruptured aneurysms. Not all headaches are cause for concern, but some are. Is this the worst headache/backache/stomach ache of your life? Do you also have a fever, vision problems or stiff neck? This could be aneurysm or meningitis, so don't wait it out. Aneurysms are damaged blood vessels that can sometimes rupture and meningitis is an infection of the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
4. You are having continuous vomiting, or diarrhea.
This is the most common question I get from my friends who have a sick loved one or a child with the "stomach flu." When should you go to the doctor or ER? When should you just try some soup, and rest? If your urine is decreased in frequency and dark in color, you need to go to the ER. In infants, the warning sign is no wet diaper in six hours. Is there blood in your vomit or stool? Our body is a tight system, so there should never be blood in your urine, stool, or vomit.
5. You have chest pain.
This is the symptom many people know as the alarm symptom. However, you'd be surprised how many people ignore chest pain since they think it's just heartburn or muscular discomfort.
Signs that it may be more? If it's worsening with exercise or causing shortness of breath, you need to get it checked. Another sign is radiating pain in the arm, neck or jaw. (In fact, many people, especially women have this as the first sign of a heart attack.)
I am a "traditional" doctor, but I am passionate about self-healing, eating a health-promoting diet, and Eastern medicine. In most cases, I say you skip the visit with me and try alternative treatments. But keep these in mind along with your "gut feeling" (the most important symptom!) so that we can blend modern technologies and ancient remedies to elevate our practice of medicine today.