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If these symptoms strike, get checked out right away
10 symptoms you should never ignore

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Tim Lee/News & Observer
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Date published: 11/1/2009

BY DONYA CURRIE

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

In a time when millions of Americans lack health insurance and even the insured often face high co-payments and packed waiting rooms, it can be a tough call to decide to seek medical attention. Yet some problems require immediate care.

Health experts at the Mayo Clinic recently put together a list of 10 symptoms you should never ignore.

1. SUDDEN WEAKNESS, LOSS OF VISION OR LOSS OF SPEECH

The sudden inability to form a coherent sentence can signal a stroke or transient ischemic attack, also known as a "mini stroke," which can precede a more severe attack.

The good news is that prompt treatment often can prevent long-term damage.

The bad news is that during a stroke "you lose 2 million brain cells a second," said Stephanie Staples, a nurse at Mary Washington Hospital who works as a "stroke champion" to educate patients and community members about the condition, which can lead to paralysis and even death.

Jackie Thompson, nurse manager of the hospital's stroke unit, also speaks out for the need to be aware of stroke warning signs.

"Part of the problem is that people oftentimes think if they go to bed and rest, they'll get better," Thompson said. "It's always much better to come to the hospital and get checked out than to come too late."

2. UNEXPLAINED WEIGHT LOSS

Sure, more than two-thirds of Americans could stand to shed some pounds. But dropping weight without a change in diet or a scaled-up exercise routine could signal any number of problems, from a thyroid disorder to depression, liver disease, cancer or another problem.

Weigh loss of up to 10 percent of your body weight--or 15 pounds for a 150-pound person--should be checked out.

"That's a significant symptom," said Fredericksburg cardiologist Dr. Robert Vranian.

If the weight loss is a sign of an underlying condition, doctors can offer treatment options to prolong and improve your life.

3. SUDDEN SEVERE HEADACHE

"The thing that really worries us is if you get a really, really bad headache, a really bad one that just seems atypical for you," said Dr. Paul Takahashi, an associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, N.Y. "Those things can be medical emergencies."


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People who are reluctant to seek help for worrisome symptoms should consider switching doctors, said Dr. Robert Vranian, a Fredericksburg cardiologist.

No health concern is too trivial for a caring doctor, he said, and it's important to feel free to speak up about any concerns. Many relatively inexpensive screening tests can pinpoint such silent underlying issues as high cholesterol or elevated blood glucose, a possible precursor to diabetes.

Even if what you're feeling isn't a sign of an immediate problem, an office visit is a chance for a medical professional to "practice some preventive care" and perhaps head off future health woes, he said.

"If you have something that's enough to be a concern to you, it ought to be checked out," Vranian said. "The truly good physician is trying to help."