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NHS HIGHLAND: Don’t ignore your body’s warning signs – seek advice

By Dr Tim Allison

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Vehicles often show if there's a problem, our symptoms should not be overlooked says Dr Tim Allison (inset).
Vehicles often show if there's a problem, our symptoms should not be overlooked says Dr Tim Allison (inset).

I have recently written a couple of times about how we may find it helpful to compare how we look after our bodies with how we look after a car if we have one.

The comparison is certainly not perfect, but it may help us to look a bit differently at our health. I have previously commented about how it is not good for either cars or bodies to be left inactive for long periods of time.

I have also said something about MOTs for vehicles and for people. Now I want to say a few words about warning signs.

Some problems with cars clearly need to be fixed straight away. For example, we can’t drive with a flat tyre. Other problems are perhaps just irritants like a persistent rattle coming from a loose object in the boot.

Warning lights on the dashboard may not prevent us from driving the car but let us know that we need to get help. What about a pool of liquid that has dripped from underneath the parked car onto the road?

It could simply be condensed water dripping from air conditioning which is normal, or oil from the engine which needs to be investigated.

With our bodies and our health, the picture may not be very different. Some symptoms we get can be so severe that we know we need help urgently, such as severe chest pain or the signs of a stroke including arm weakness and facial drooping.

We may have symptoms that are irritants, but we know are not serious.

It might be helpful if we had warning lights like cars, but even though we don’t we should be aware of warning signs that alert us of the need to seek help. These include blood in poo or urine and lumps in the breast.

However, in some cases it can be difficult to know what symptoms mean, just like drips from under a car. Coughing is very common, and many people have suffered with bad coughs from Covid, but a persistent cough for three weeks can be a sign of something else serious and may need further investigation.

Moles on the skin are extremely common and usually of no significance for our health, but if a mole grows, or changes colour it could be serious and needs to be assessed. If an oil leak is caught early, then it can most likely be fixed and cause no more damage. If serious diseases are caught early there is much more chance of a cure.

So, it is important to be aware of our body’s symptoms and to act on them.

The NHS Inform website is a good place to find more information and to see when it is right to seek professional assessment and help for symptoms.

Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.

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