How to save your own life

DO YOU KNOW HOW TO TELL A MI­NOR COM­PLAINT FROM A MED­I­CAL EMER­GENCY? LARRAINE SATHICQ LOOKS AT KEY SIGNS OF SOME­THING SE­RI­OUS

Good Health (Australia) - - Content -

Every­one ex­pe­ri­ences in­ex­pli­ca­ble aches and pains from time to time and usu­ally it’s just the stresses and strains of a busy life tak­ing their toll. But ev­ery now and then they can be symp­toms of a more se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tion. While we shouldn’t start con­stantly jump­ing to the worst con­clu­sion, know­ing the early warn­ing signs of a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion might one day help you save your own life or some­one else’s around you. Here are a few sce­nar­ios that might seem harm­less but that you need to be aware of, as well as ex­pert med­i­cal ad­vice about what course of ac­tion you need to take.

You’ve Copped a blow to the head

Whether it’s a case of be­ing in the wrong place at the wrong time or mak­ing a sim­ple er­ror of judge­ment on a slip­pery foot­path, a bump can leave you with more than just an egg on your head. Con­cus­sion can re­sult from even a mi­nor head in­jury and may cause loss of con­scious­ness, dizzi­ness, nau­sea, con­fu­sion, a headache and short-term am­ne­sia, says Syd­ney-based emer­gency doc­tor Na­dine Hud­dle.

“Most cases of con­cus­sion don’t re­quire fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but some peo­ple get bruis­ing, swelling or bleed­ing on the brain,” she adds.

What to do:

Even if your in­jury is mi­nor and the blow didn’t knock you out, you should still see your GP, ad­vises Hud­dle. “Symp­toms like pass­ing out, per­sis­tent vom­it­ing, con­fu­sion or seizures can ap­pear im­me­di­ately or days later, and could in­di­cate a more sig­nif­i­cant in­jury,” she says. “If any of these hap­pen af­ter a head in­jury, you should go straight to hos­pi­tal. But don’t drive your­self there – get some­one else to drive you or call an am­bu­lance.”

You have an achy up­per body

You might think it’s worth wait­ing to see if you feel bet­ter in a few hours, but these symp­toms can be life threat­en­ing. Sud­den, se­vere chest pain and short­ness of breath aren’t the only sign of a heart at­tack, es­pe­cially for women. Sore arms or shoul­ders, or an aching neck, jaw or back shouldn’t be ig­nored. Ditto short­ness of breath, dizzi­ness, nau­sea, fa­tigue and a cold sweat; all can sig­nal a heart at­tack. These symp­toms may come on sud­denly or slowly and usu­ally last more than 10 min­utes.

What to do:

Call an am­bu­lance with­out de­lay, says Dr Justin Bowra, emer­gency physi­cian and CEO of My Emer­gency Dr. Sit or lie down and wait for the paramedics to ar­rive. They will have a por­ta­ble ECG ma­chine and will as­sess your con­di­tion and make sure you’re sta­bilised on the way to hos­pi­tal. Don’t feel em­bar­rassed about a po­ten­tial false alarm. “Al­most ev­ery day we see apolo­getic pa­tients who say their part­ners made them get med­i­cal at­ten­tion,” says Bowra. “Emer­gency staff are al­ways happy when the news is good, but com­ing to see us is the only way we know you’re safe.”

You can’t keep any­thing down

No one feels like solid food when they have vom­it­ing and di­ar­rhoea, but be­ing un­able to keep flu­ids down can be dan­ger­ous, says Hud­dle. Un­treated de­hy­dra­tion can lead to dan­ger­ously low blood pres­sure, low blood su­gar and even kid­ney prob­lems. “Signs of de­hy­dra­tion in adults in­clude darker urine and a dry mouth,” she says. “If you’re de­hy­drated, you lose your ap­petite, and it can be­come a down­ward spi­ral where the less you take in, the less you want to have.”

What to do:

Keep your flu­ids up by tak­ing fre­quent sips of wa­ter or a re­hy­dra­tion so­lu­tion or sports drink con­tain­ing elec­trolytes, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

“Your GP can pre­scribe anti-nau­sea med­i­ca­tion, but if you can’t even keep that down or it’s been hours since your last drink, it’s time to get to hos­pi­tal,” says Hud­dle. “De­hy­dra­tion is rea­son­ably easy to fix with IV flu­ids and most peo­ple feel bet­ter soon af­ter.”

You have a headache like no other

A thun­der­clap headache comes on sud­denly and un­like other headaches that start slowly, this one is most se­vere right at the be­gin­ning. “When this hap­pens, es­pe­cially when it’s to some­one with­out a his­tory of headaches or with high blood pres­sure or tak­ing blood thin­ner med­i­ca­tion, it could be a sign of a haem­or­rhage,” ex­plains Hud­dle. “It can be caused by a weak­ened blood ves­sel leak­ing into the brain or by spon­ta­neous bleed­ing in the brain tis­sue. Although most headaches aren’t life-threat­en­ing, the most se­vere forms can be.”

What to do:

Call an am­bu­lance ASAP. “You need to call some­one straight away and get to Emer­gency with­out de­lay,” ad­vises Hud­dle.

“Most headaches have a less se­ri­ous cause, but some con­di­tions can threaten your sight, your brain func­tion or even your life, and we can fig­ure that out in the emer­gency de­part­ment and start treat­ment im­me­di­ately.”

You’re dou­bled over in pain

Ab­dom­i­nal pain could be caused by any­thing from in­di­ges­tion to a burst blood ves­sel, but the most im­me­di­ate con­cern for most peo­ple is ap­pen­dici­tis, the in­flam­ma­tion of that mys­te­ri­ous fin­ger-shaped or­gan at­tached to the large in­tes­tine. An in­flamed ap­pen­dix can cause se­ri­ous prob­lems, es­pe­cially if it rup­tures and leaks tox­ins into your blood­stream. Symp­toms may in­clude pain in the lower right side of your ab­domen, a slight fever, nau­sea, di­ar­rhoea and con­sti­pa­tion. “Most cases of ab­dom­i­nal pain are due to other con­di­tions, some of which may be just as se­ri­ous, for ex­am­ple a rup­tured aor­tic aneurysm or di­ver­ti­c­uli­tis,” ex­plains Bowra. “But as a gen­eral rule, if your tummy doesn’t hurt when you cough or jump up and down on the spot, it’s prob­a­bly not ap­pen­dici­tis.”

What to do:

“If you have se­vere pain that lasts more than a few min­utes, if you feel light-headed or pass out, or if it’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt, it’s time to call an am­bu­lance,” ad­vises Bowra. “Even if your con­di­tion isn’t life-threat­en­ing, it’s im­por­tant to seek spe­cial­ist med­i­cal ad­vice and get the pain sorted out.”

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