Many people don’t like visiting the doctor. They don’t like paying for the trip, being poked and prodded, or admitting that they’re sick. While we maintain that if you’re concerned, you should see the doctor, you may still be hesitant. You know something is wrong, but is it bad enough to seek help? Well, if you show any of these signs, it’s definitely time to make an appointment and see the doctor.

These are general signs that you should see the doctor, not specific symptoms of a condition. They’re signs that the cough is more than a cough or that ache isn’t just an ache. It’s important that you remember to always be upfront with your doctor about what concerns you, because even if you think something is small, it may actually be a sign of something more.

The Symptom Is Persistent

One of the clearer signs that a symptom has some underlying cause is that it’s sticking around for a while. What constitutes “persistent” will depend largely on the symptom. For example, if you’re feeling pain, you’ll want to go see a doctor once it’s clear that the pain is chronic, not acute. Let’s say you’ve pushed yourself a little too hard exercising and now you’re sore. It’s reasonable to have a little muscle pain for the next few days, each day feeling less pain as you recover. If it’s been longer than a few days and the pain isn’t getting better, you’ll want to see your doctor since this could point to an injury or a worse health problem.

Symptoms may seem harmless, but the longer they last, the more important it is to get them checked out.

The same can be said for a cold. Usually, the symptoms of a cold will clear up on their own, but if they’re sticking around for 10 days or more, you should go see a doctor. Other symptoms may seem harmless, but the longer they last, the more important it is to get them checked out. Some examples include a cough that is persistent for three weeks, two weeks or more of fatigue despite getting rest, or nausea lasting more than 12 hours if severe or 24 if more mild. Of course, these are only a few examples, but the logic applies to any new symptom. If you experience it for a noticeably long time, whether it be two days or two months, you should discuss it with your doctor.

The Symptom Is Severe

This may seem like a bit of a no brainer, but if you’re experiencing a severe symptom, you should go to the doctor or even the hospital. The intensity of the symptom that you’re feeling is a sign that something is really wrong in your body and you shouldn’t try to “wait it out.” Even if the cause of the symptom is known, like pain from stubbing your toe, if it’s extreme, it may be wise to go to the doctor. Holding off could cause the injury to heal incorrectly or at the very least prolong the pain unnecessarily.

A good rule of thumb here is that, if something is persistently severe enough to draw your attention, it won’t hurt to call your doctor.

Of course, the severity of a symptom goes beyond pain. In the example earlier for nausea, we mention that the severity of the symptom could cut how long you should wait before going to the doctor in half, from 24 hours to 12 hours. By the same token, the severity of a headache can determine whether or not you should take some pain killers or go to the doctor to explore the possibility of any underlying causes. Also, if you have a slight fever (anything under 100°F), you may be fine to rest and drink lots of fluids. However, if your fever is 103°F or over, you should go see the doctor immediately.

Again, beyond a few concrete examples like fevers, the severity of a symptom is quite subjective. A good rule of thumb here is that, if something is persistently severe enough to draw your attention, whether it’s a stabbing stomachache or a headache that leaves you floored, it wouldn’t hurt to call your doctor.

The Symptom Appears Suddenly

Another concerning sign is if the symptom appears suddenly and without noticeable cause. A little pain in your foot after you stubbed your toe isn’t concerning, but a little pain in your chest for no clear reason certainly is. The severity of the symptom is also a little important here, since many illnesses progress. If you suddenly have a severe sore throat, it’s more concerning initially than one that starts out as a tickle and grows over the course of a few days.

Other changes like unexplained weight loss or weight gain, or sudden changes in sleeping patterns, can also indicate something is not right.

Sudden changes in regular body functions or patterns can also be signs you should see your doctor. If your bathroom habits suddenly change, like more frequent urination or diarrhea, it can be sign of severe medical conditions or digestive issues. Other changes like unexplained weight loss or weight gain, or sudden changes in sleeping patterns, can also indicate something is not right and a trip to the doctor is necessary. These all can point to the development of a new, underlying condition that your doctor may be able to diagnose and help you with.

● ● ●

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of room for your judgement here, and that’s because knowing when to talk to the doctor is ultimately a call to be made based on what you’re experiencing and feeling. If you’re concerned enough that you’re reading articles about whether you should be worried about your symptom(s) or not, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. If you can get peace of mind from a call or visit to your doctor, it’s worth at least investigating. Ultimately, that’s what your doctor is there for, to keep you healthy and act as a health expert in your life. This is especially the case if you have Medicare or good health care coverage that makes visiting the doctor such an affordable option!