A doctor's office can be a very stressful place, and there are times a patient might overlook, ignore, or omit things about their symptoms, medical history, treatment course, or anything else that might bring them to seek professional care.
I recently asked medical professionals of the BuzzFeed Community: What common things do people often brush off that might actually mean something more serious? A lot of the responses are worth taking notes on.
However, it is important to note that the advice I'm including in this post is not meant to take the place of medical advice — when in doubt, consult with your local doctor or healthcare professional.
1. "Preventive screenings are extremely important. Do not ignore them. Colorectal cancer screenings, breast cancer screenings, cervical cancer screenings, and other preventive tests and screenings are all ways for patients to remain healthy and the best way to catch a critical diagnosis early. A life-altering diagnosis caught earlier equals a potentially better outcome for many people. When healthcare providers remind you of these things, they do so because it could mean the difference between living a long, healthy life and not. Don’t write off their recommendations because you think they are annoying, you don’t have time, or you don’t have symptoms."
2. "Find out what's normal about pooping, and pay attention if something is off. Don't be afraid to talk about poop. Everyone poops."
3. "I see a lot of patients brush off sudden and unexplained weight loss. When you suddenly drop 20 pounds or more over a few months without trying or changing much, it can be a sign of something more."
4. "Please teach your children good dental habits at an early age. Instead of asking your child to brush their teeth and assuming they do it, make sure they do it by helping them. If they can’t write their name neatly, they don’t have the dexterity to properly brush their teeth. Teach them the importance of floss as well! A small cavity as a child likely turns into a larger filling as an adult — which doesn’t last forever and will need to be replaced eventually. That means a crown and/or root canal, and in some cases, pulling the tooth altogether. So many adults come in and say that the importance of brushing and flossing wasn’t stressed in their home growing up, and they have to get a lot of dental work done as adults. A lot of dental work can be avoided if preventative measures are taken at home at an early age."
5. "We need to know all [patient] medications whether they are prescribed, over the counter, or even ones that you only take as needed or once in a while. It is common for prescription and OTC meds to interact with other medications. Please don't forget to tell us about your vitamins and supplements, too. When we ask if you drink, we are not asking if you are an alcoholic — again, certain meds don't go well with alcohol. Please don't get offended when we ask this question."
6. "Doctor here. Even though I don't agree with medical advice online, our job is also to inform and prevent it. A checkup has never hurt anyone. This is my main symptom that is worth a check-up: tiredness. Being tired doesn't always mean you are overstressed or lazy. A simple blood test can tell us so much about this and hopefully get you back on track to feeling better in a short time."
7. "I’m not in the medical field yet, but I’m in undergrad to become a PA and am almost certified as an EMT. One of my EMT instructors shared a story about asking a patient about their pertinent medical history, specifically high blood pressure. The patient responded they didn’t have high blood pressure, but later stated that they took medication to lower their blood pressure. Technically, they were right in that they didn’t have high blood pressure at the time (because the medication was controlling it), but they still had the condition of high blood pressure. Luckily, it didn’t affect the treatment at that time, but if that hadn’t been specified, then certain medications could have been very detrimental to the patient. Long story short: If it’s a condition you’re taking medications for or have been diagnosed with, even if it’s well-controlled, tell your medical professional! In the best case scenario, it doesn’t matter. But in the worst case scenario, it could be deadly."
—Anonymous, 20-year-old student
8. "Don’t go to the ER for your eye problems. Most doctors spend about two weeks in medical school learning about the eyes and will often just prescribe you antibiotics and send you on your way. Always see an ophthalmologist or optometrist to make sure it’s not serious!"
9. "Gum disease. Once you have it, you need to treat it before it gets worse. A lot of times when patients get diagnosed with gum disease and are recommended a treatment to lessen the severity, they don’t do it because they don’t know how severe it can get. Gum disease is a main reason why people lose their teeth, not just cavities! Also, gum disease is related to heart disease, joint disease, certain cancers, and pre-term birth (for pregnant patients). So, if your dentist or hygienist is recommending treatment for your gum disease — do it!"
10. "I once had a patient come to me with a painless lump in her neck. She said it appeared after helping with a flood cleanup effort, so she figured it was some sort of infection from being exposed to the nasty water. Her sister urged her to get it checked out, so she came in just to appease her. She said: 'I'm not worried about it; it doesn't hurt, and it doesn't really bother me. I'm really just here so she stops bugging me about it.' The lump was about the size of a hazelnut on the exam. After a scan and subsequent biopsy, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She did well with treatment and is in remission, but she may not have been so lucky had she waited. Sudden, painless lumps aren't always something — but getting them checked takes minimal effort and could save your life. Always better to be safe than sorry."
11. "[While pregnant], anytime you feel decreased fetal movement, you and your baby need to be assessed. You should feel (at least) the same number of movements each day, or the number should increase. If the number ever decreases, let your doctor know immediately. Google 'fetal kick counts,' and follow the instructions — it shows you how to monitor movements at home."
—Labor and delivery nurse
12. "Leg or extremity swelling. If your legs are swollen after you’re on your feet all day, that’s one thing. But if you notice it consistently on days without a lot of walking or standing, that could be a sign of something more."
13. "Chest pain. I can’t count how many times we’ve received messages through the online patient portal about someone experiencing chest pain, or they casually mention it halfway through their appointment. Every single time we hear those two magic words, we need to stop what we are doing and run multiple tests to ensure your heart is okay. Don’t brush off chest pain, even if you think it’s not important or could be nothing."