10 Signs You Should Go See the Doctor

Should I see a doctor? It’s a question many people ask. Despite what you may tell yourself, major symptoms and incidents aren’t the only reasons to go see the doctor. In fact, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common reason for illness-related doctor’s visits in 2012 was a cough. Whatever your situation, remember that for many conditions early detection can lead to better outcomes. Read on for 10 telltale signs it’s time to go see the doctor—including when your cough is bad enough to merit a visit. 

Keep in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive; above all, go with your gut—if instinct tells you something is wrong, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention.


You Have a Persistent, High Fever

A fever is one way your body naturally fights infection. However, if you have a fever above 103˚ Fahrenheit (39.4˚ Celsius) or a fever that lasts more than three days, you should call your doctor. A more serious infection could be at play. 


Your Cold Becomes Unusually Bad

It’s not always easy to know when to go to the doctor for a cold; if yours doesn’t pass or even worsens, seek professional help. Specifically, watch for the following:
    • A severe cough that lingers more than two weeks may indicate whooping cough, while sustained congestion can lead to a sinus infection if left untreated.
    • If you have a fever, muscle aches or other flu-like symptoms, you may in fact have the flu. In these cases, it’s best to see the doctor for a Tamiflu prescription. Seniors, expecting mothers and persons with heart disease should exercise extra caution, as they are more likely to develop complications from the flu.
    • Extremely difficult swallowing, chest pain and shortness of breath are not normal cold symptoms and may indicate a more serious condition.
    • If you can’t keep anything down, you may need an IV to get fluids to help your body function.


You’ve Lost Weight Suddenly and Without Explanation

An unexplained drop in weight could indicate overactive thyroid, diabetes, depression or liver disease, among other things. As a general rule of thumb, if you’ve lost more than 10% of your body weight in the last six months (and you’re not obese), make an appointment with your doctor.


You’re Short of Breath

High altitude, strenuous exercise, obesity and extreme temperature are all normal causes of shortness of breath. If none of these are causing your breathlessness, ask your doctor about the possibility of asthma, bronchitis or another condition—especially if symptoms come on sudden and strong.


You Experience Severe Chest, Abdominal or Pelvic Pain

Abnormal, intense and sustained pain in the chest, abdomen or pelvis can indicate an underlying issue that demands a doctor’s attention. Some examples include heart attack when the pain is in the chest, gallstones when in the abdomen (especially if accompanied by nausea and vomiting), and appendicitis or kidney infection when in the pelvis.


Your Bowel Movement or Urination Has Changed

Keep in mind that bowel movement and urination can vary from person to person, so the most important thing to look for is a sudden change in your own pattern, whether that’s bloody or black stools, diarrhea or constipation, or excessive urination. When these crop up, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor.  


Bright Flashes Interrupt Your Vision

If you suffer from migraines, you may sometimes experience bright flashes or spots in your vision. Outside of these cases, sudden bright flashes might be a sign of a retinal detachment, a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent vision loss.


You Experience Confusion or Changes in Mood

Changes in mood and sudden confusion can occur with mental health issues as well as physical conditions, such as an infection or drug interaction. Watch out for trouble thinking or focusing, irregular sleeping patterns, and feelings of anxiety or depression.


You Suspect You Have a Concussion

If you’ve fallen on your head or suffered a blow to it, monitor for the symptoms of concussion. These can include difficulty concentrating, headache, irritability and change in sleep pattern; if any of these develop, see your doctor. 


You Develop Unexpected Symptoms After a Procedure or Starting a New Medication

Anytime you undergo a medical procedure or surgery, get an immunization, or start a new medication, ask your doctor in advance about the known symptoms. Monitor for these and if anything out of the ordinary occurs, call the doctor’s office to see if an appointment is advised.

CDC — Physician Visits
Mayo Clinic — Symptoms Not To Ignore
WebMD — When to see a doctor
CDC — Flu Complications
CDC — People at High Risk for Flu Complications
Little Things — Symptoms You Should Never Ignore
Cleveland Clinic — Warning Signs of Emotional Stress: When to See Your Doctor
CDC — Traumatic Brain Injury Response
CDC — Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms
University of Minnesota — When Should You Go to the Doctor?