”These seven symptoms may indicate a potentially life-threatening situation, and you should immediately seek medical attention if you experience any of them”.

All of us don’t feel well from time to time, and you generally know your runny nose is a sign of the flu, or that your shortness of breath is caused by exercise.

But there are certain symptoms you should never ignore.Over 136 million people in Africa visit an emergency room each year. 12% of these patients have symptoms severe enough to warrant hospitalisation.

1. A sudden intense headache.

Most of us occasionally experience headaches, but a sudden pain, unlike any headache you’ve had before, could be reason for concern. It may be a ruptured aneurysm, which can cause blood to be released into the spaces around the brain. This situation is life-threatening, with a 50% risk of death. This condition is called subarachnoid haemorrhage.

Sudden headaches can also indicate meningitis or a brain tumour. Go to the emergency room if it occurs right after activities such as weightlifting or jogging, or if it is accompanied by problems with vision.

2. Sudden chest pain.

An intense discomfort or a feeling of heaviness or pressure on the chest can be the start of a heart attack. You should especially get medical attention if it’s accompanied by pain running down the arm, sweating or shortness of breath. Statistics show that about 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes occur daily in South Africa, and as a result 2010 people die of heart disease every day. It could also be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

3. Shortness of breath.

An unexpected shortness of breath can be a sign of pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung), and this warrants emergency medical attention. It can also prevent blood from reaching your lungs. It might also be a sign of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, asthma or pneumonia. In these cases it’s important to get a diagnosis so that effective treatment can start immediately.

4. Sudden decline in cognitive functioning.

If you have a sudden change in your thinking skills or personality, it can be a sign of a brain tumour or bleeding in the brain. A stroke is another possibility, especially if speech is also affected. Get immediate medical attention if you have problems with concentration, suddenly confused or have a general feeling of disorientation.

5. High and persistent fever.

Fever of more than 39 degrees Celsius, warrants a trip to the emergency room. Fever is the body’s way to fight infections, so a high fever might indicate severe illnesses, such as cellulitis (a bacterial infection of the skin and tissues) and kidney or urinary tract infections. In children, an extremely high fever should always be taken seriously, especially if it’s accompanied by persistent vomiting, a refusal to eat or drowsiness.

6. Sudden abdominal pain.

An aortic aneurysm (swelling) or rupture might cause sudden abdominal pain. A ruptured aneurysm can cause massive internal bleeding, which is usually fatal”. About eight out of 10 people die before they reach the hospital or don’t survive surgery.

7. Changes in vision.

Any change in vision can be a sign of a serious disorder. Seeing bright spots or flashes usually indicates a migraine, but it can also be a sign of retinal detachment. Permanent vision loss is a real possibility in such instances, and that one should take immediate action.

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