When Should I See My Doctor?

We often hesitate to run to the doctor’s office over a seemingly mild health concern, especially if we think the cause is a neglected lifestyle habit or “something going around.”

Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.

IT WAS JUST A MINOR ANNOYANCE, and actually she couldn’t remember when it started happening.

Their split-level house had several partial flights of stairs, and often when Edith* climbed one of them, she would find herself somewhat short of breath. It was nothing  serious, just a feeling that lasted a few minutes without interfering with the rest of her activities. She attributed it to being out of shape. Yes, she did feel tired most of the time, but, after all, she was a busy mom taking care of her home, children, and job.

Only when she went to her doctor’s office for her regular annual check-up did she find out something startling. Following the physical exam, she visited the lab for routine blood tests. That afternoon the doctor’s office called and told her to report immediately to the emergency department of the local hospital because her hemoglobin blood count was dangerously low. Edith followed instructions and received as treatment three units of blood.


Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. A seriously low hemoglobin level can cause general tiredness, weakness,  pale skin, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Left untreated it can damage internal organs, especially the heart, which is required to work harder.


A nagging pain, a persistent sore throat, shortness of breath—should you see your doctor?

We often hesitate to run to the doctor’s office over a seemingly mild health concern, especially if we think the cause is a neglected lifestyle habit or “something going around.” Or we may temporarily relieve the symptoms with home remedies and self-treatment. It’s often just easier to “wait it out,” hoping the body will correct the problem on its own.

The fact is that for many conditions, early detection and appropriate medical intervention can lead to far better outcomes, as evidenced by Edith’s story.

It’s vital to recognize when a situation or a symptom is an outright emergency, such as:
• difficulty breathing,
• chest pain,
• significant bleeding,
• sudden weakness,
• a traumatic head injury, or
• a loss of consciousness.


In these and any other potentially life-threatening scenarios, immediately call for emergency services assistance or go directly to a hospital emergency department.

The following is a list of less-than obvious symptoms that should indicate it’s a good idea to see your doctor. However, this is by no means a comprehensive list.

Remember, it’s also important to “go with your instinct.” If you feel something is just not right, get it investigated.

1. You’re losing weight without joining Weight Watchers.
As a general guideline, if you’ve lost more than 10 percent of your body weight within the past six months without any extra effort on your part, this is a red-flag warning, and it’s time to see your doctor.

2. Your cold symptoms are getting worse instead of better.

A severe cough that lasts longer than two weeks, chest pain and shortness of breath, fever with muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, tiredness, nausea and vomiting—all are
indications that medical help is advised. The elderly, expecting mothers, and individuals with debilitating preexisting health conditions are especially susceptible to  complications from colds or the flu.

3. Your fever keeps coming back.
One way your body fights infection is with fever. However, a fever that lasts longer than three days or is persistently high (above 103° Fahrenheit or 39.4° Celsius) can be a sign of a more serious infection.

4. Your throat hurts when you swallow.
A typical sore throat can make swallowing uncomfortable. This usually improves in 2-3 days. However, severe pain when swallowing can indicate infection or injury
and warrants medical evaluation.

5. You feel lightheaded.
Periodic lightheadedness when getting out of bed quickly or standing up from a prolonged seated position is considered a mild condition. But if you feel lightheaded for more than a minute every time you stand up, causing you to sit or lie back down, or if you find yourself becoming lightheaded while exercising, it’s important to find out the cause.

6. You are often short of breath.
If you find you are having unusual spells of breathlessness and you are not spending time on mountain tops (high elevations) or engaged in strenuous exercise, are not significantly overweight, or not in an area of extreme temperature, then make an appointment to have a good medical check-up. Remember Edith’s story.

“Your ears will hear a voice behind you saying,
‘This is the way: walk in it.’”
Isaiah 30:21, NIV

7. Your bowel or bladder function has changed.
Normal bowel movement and urination patterns vary from person to person. Periodic minor deviation from routine can occur depending on food eaten, stress level, illness, and some medications. However, a sudden change in pattern, such as pain, black or bloody stools, severe diarrhea or constipation, frequent urination or inability to urinate, or change in color of the urine should all be alerts that medical evaluation is crucial.

8. You are seeing bright flashes.
For those who suffer periodically with migraine headaches, bright flashes of light or spots appearing in their vision are not unusual. However, if you do not have a history of migraines and suddenly bright flashes interrupt your vision, you could be experiencing a retinal detachment. To prevent permanent vision loss, you need immediate medical attention.

9. You experience confusion, disorientation, or mood changes.
Infection, drug interactions, injury to the head, stroke, or mental health issues are just a few conditions that can lead to confusion, disorientation, or mood changes. A health assessment is of utmost importance in determining the cause and initiating appropriate treatment.

10. You are experiencing unusual bleeding.
For women vaginal spotting or bleeding beyond one year into menopause is not normal and should be evaluated by a physician in order to rule out possible serious causes, such as cancer.

A wound that does not stop bleeding, a prolonged heavy nose bleed, or frequent nosebleeds could indicate a blood-clotting problem, a low red-blood-cell count, or the
side effect of specific medications, etc. The problem needs medical evaluation.

Some health concerns, such as the development of elevated blood pressure, can progress silently without a person’s awareness. Getting an annual physical examination is an excellent way to identify potential problems early, and take lifestyle and even medical measures to keep ahead of a more serious outcome. In Edith’s case, it was during
her annual physical check-up that a serious problem was discovered. With emergency treatment and appropriate follow-up aid, potential disaster was averted.

Our bodies communicate to us in silent voices, such as aches, pains, fatigue, feelings, and emotions. Some of these voices are louder than others, demanding immediate attention and help. But it’s those whisper-like alerts, warning us gently that something is going wrong, that also deserve attention and can help us avoid a potential crisis.

We have been created by a loving, caring God who not only gave us life but also installed within us an amazing security system of alerts and warnings.


*Name Changed.

Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.