Is it really a health emergency or are you overreacting? Use our traffic light guide to assess
How do you know if you’re a hypochondriac or just health-aware? How do you tell if your stomach pain is life-threatening or due to that huge take-away? We asked experts to draft a ‘traffic-light’ guide to assessing your health risks.
A ‘green’ signal means there’s probably nothing to be concerned about; and ‘amber’ suggests you should get checked out by your GP. A ‘red’ indicates medical attention should be sought immediately.
Is it gallstones?
Green: Abdominal discomfort around the midline of the abdomen — particularly after eating a large, heavy meal — is usually a sign of indigestion.
Amber: Intermittent mild discomfort below the right ribs and right upper side of the abdomen following a heavy meal, together with nausea, is a key sign of gall bladder disease — particularly in overweight, middle-aged women.
Red Intense, severe waves of pain that radiate across the upper abdomen (and up to the right shoulder blade) are signs of gall stones stuck in the common bile duct. Symptoms include itchy skin, fever, dark urine and pale stools.
Is it heart attack?
Green: A burning pain behind the breastbone, that’s worse after meals and when lying flat, suggests heartburn (reflux of stomach acid back up into the gullet), and is usually relieved by milk or antacids.
Amber: Highly localised pain (i.e. the patient can point to the exact spot) is rarely due to anything serious, and usually arises from a rib or muscle injury, but should still be checked. Palpitation (an abnormal awareness of the heart beat) is very common — and often not due to a heart rhythm problem. But episodes of rapid palpitation that start and stop suddenly (like flicking a switch) and occur ‘out of the blue’ (at rest as well as on exertion or during stress), may indicate an abnormal heart rhythm and should be assessed by a doctor.
Red: A heaviness or ache in the centre of the chest (and in the throat, jaw and/or the arms) accompanied by breathlessness is likely to be angina. Caused by a restriction of blood supply to the heart, angina usually comes on gradually during physical exertion or stress and lasts several minutes. If pain isn’t relieved by — or comes on at — rest, it may signal a heart attack.
Is it broken?
Green: Most ankle and wrist injuries are usually sprains (stretching or partially tearing ligaments — the strong bands of tissue that connect one bone to another and help to hold joints together). They can be very painful — particularly with movement — and there may be swelling and bruising but usually improve with overthe-counter painkillers, ice and heat treatments and the use of compression supports.
Amber: If the injury is a result of a force, such as a fall or collision, the pain persists and/or worsens and disturbs sleep and the area becomes red, hot and swollen, get it checked out.
Red: Red flags for broken bones include immediate pain, swelling, discolouration, a deformity of the area in question and the inability to use the limb.
Is it diabetes?
Green: Going to the loo frequently may mean you have a urinary tract infection — particularly if it comes on suddenly, you don’t produce much urine, or if you experience a burning sensation. It can be easily treated with antibiotics.
Amber: If you’re peeing more often, feeling very tired and constantly thirsty despite drinking lots of fluids, you should see your GP for a blood glucose test.
Red: Drowsiness, nausea and vomiting and a strong ‘pear-drop’ smell on the breath can signal DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis). This occurs when a lack of insulin means the body can’t use glucose for energy and starts breaking down fat — resulting in the production of poisonous chemicals called ketones.
Is it appendicitis?
Green: Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the commonest cause of abdominal pain. Pain tends to be gradual and moves around, or comes and goes and varies in intensity, but doesn’t usually disturb sleep. Try keeping a food diary to eliminate triggers, drink peppermint tea and see your GP for treatment options if symptoms persist.
Amber: If pain persists and changes — and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as weight loss and loss of appetite — get checked by a doctor.
Red: Red flags include sudden onset of pain which gets steadily worse and is localised. This is particularly concerning if it disturbs sleep and is accompanied by sudden onset of diarrhoea, blood in the stools and/or vomiting.
Times OF India