When you're under the weather, it can be tempting to skip going to the doctor and instead huddle in bed with your favorite blanket. Though that approach might be fine for treating the common cold, it won't work so well for more severe ailments. It's common for people to put off going to the doctor for serious illnesses because the conditions often start out as something minor.
"Most serious illnesses originally [start out] as colds," noted Dr. David Weitzman, M.D., an urgent care physician in North Carolina and a board member of the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine.
So how can you tell the difference between a cold and a condition that requires medical attention? These six signs are red flags that you need more than a cold treatment.
If you're an adult and you have a fever higher than 102, it's likely that your body is dealing with more than a cold, explained Weitzman. Though a moderate fever can actually help your immune system kill bacteria and viruses, going to the doctor is probably a good idea to address any underlying issues.
Feeling mildly sick, then better and then sick again could be a sign of a "superinfection" -- a more serious secondary infection that results when your immune system is weakened from a mild illness. "It could be that the immune system got tired and another infection was able to come in," Weitzman said. "Or the normal flora in your body that protected you from getting sick got thrown off a little and other bacteria came in. Or you were exposed to a second type of virus and got sick again." In any case, he said, your doctor would probably like to see you to make sure there's nothing serious going on.
Headaches so intense they cause problems with your concentration or ability to think clearly should be checked out by a doctor. This could indicate a disorder that affects the central nervous system, like meningitis. "Most people [with meningitis] get that fuzzy, lightheaded feeling," Weitzman noted. Don't tough it out -- make an appointment.
Feeling "Run Over By A Freight Train"
If you're so achy and weak that even getting out of bed seems like a monumental task, it's time to seek medical help. Muscle aches and fatigue might mean you have the flu, a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. Contrary to popular thought, there are things your doctor can do to make your flu experience slightly less miserable. For example, your doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication, which weakens the flu virus and shortens the duration of your symptoms. "It also prevents the flu from causing bad secondary problems, like with the lungs," Weitzman added.
Having A Chronic Condition
People who have significant health problems, like diabetes, hypothyroidism or kidney disorders, should go to the doctor even if they have only cold symptoms. Think of it as better safe than sorry. "I don't care if you think it's a cold or not -- I'd want to see you," Weitzman said. For example, people with diabetes can have problems controlling their blood sugar when they're sick. A visit to the doctor could prevent potential complications.
Many people think nothing of the occasional irregular heartbeat, but sickness accompanied by arrhythmia might mean something more serious, like dehydration or a virus that's attacking the heart or its lining. A pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot that enters the lungs, can also cause heart palpitations.
Bonus Tips: Communicating With Your Doctor
Once you've decided that going to the doctor is your best bet, you can help the doctor give you an accurate diagnosis by being as detailed and honest as possible about your symptoms and the circumstances surrounding them. Weitzman said that "communicating freely with your doctor and explaining everything that's going on is the most important thing anyone can do."
Make sure to list any medications you're taking, whether they're prescription or over-the-counter, and explain all of your symptoms thoroughly. If you've done anything out of the ordinary recently, be sure to mention that too. Even if your health details seem a little strange, don't worry -- it's likely your doctor has heard it all before.
"In my 30 years of practice, you'd be amazed at what I've heard and seen," Weitzman said. "No one really catches me off guard anymore."
"6 Signs It's More Than a Cold" originally appeared on Everyday Health