Do I need to see a doctor right away?

Posted on 4 October 2021

If your symptoms have progressed to the point where they are causing you real alarm, the answer is probably ‘yes’.

If your symptoms have progressed to the point where they are causing you real alarm, the answer is probably ‘yes’.


If you’re at a point where you’re typing your symptoms into Google, it’s time to book a consult with your doctor, says Dr Lesley Thomas, a GP at Mediclinic Morningside. On the other hand, if you’re not overly distressed about the condition, your consultation can probably wait a week or so.

Either way, you should never feel bad to see a doctor if you’re feeling less than top notch. “We are here to help you. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re wasting our time because the problem is minor, or if it’s so overwhelming that you don’t know what to do. Think of it as handing over your health problem for someone else to worry about.”


Nothing to feel embarrassed about

Nor should you worry about ailments you may consider awkward or embarrassing. The body and its various discharges and lumps are, after all, no mystery to your doctor, so you shouldn’t hesitate to consult them with anything that you might usually feel uncomfortable about, whether that’s an STD, a urinary tract infection, skin condition, lumps, haemorrhoids, or any discomfort in your anal or genital area, such as a discharge or testicular pain.


Feeling feverish?

What about fever? If your temperature is 39°C or over, have it checked out – especially if it isn’t responding to over-the-counter (OTC) pain and fever medication, or if you’re having night sweats at the same time. In fact, any symptom, including pain, coughing, or headache, that doesn’t improve after five days with the use of OTC medication should be checked out. This is especially true for headaches, especially those which come on suddenly, are particularly severe, and are accompanied by neck stiffness, vomiting and light sensitivity, as these are typical signs of meningitis.

It’s also a good idea to see a doctor if the fever is accompanied by a headache, as these are both common symptoms of COVID-19, as are fatigue and diarrhoea.

Even if you’re not experiencing any of the above, you may wish to have a cough checked out if it is persistent, causes breathing difficulty or becomes more severe. If you cough up discoloured phlegm, book an appointment – especially if the phlegm contains blood.


Unexpected weight loss

Sudden weight loss can also be a sign that something is brewing, Dr Thomas warns. While many people would like weight to fall off magically, the reality is that the number on the scale usually remains pretty constant. Unless you’re actively trying to lose weight by upping your physical activity or cutting down on calories, you shouldn’t feel your clothes becoming looser. But, by the same token, they shouldn’t be getting tighter either. If you notice your weight shifting in either direction over the course of a few months, book an appointment.


Toilet troubles?

Changes in bowel or urinary habits should also be addressed. Issues like persistent diarrhoea or constipation or blood in the stool may need further investigation.


Feeling fatigued?

Fatigue is another symptom that might be a warning sign. Granted, we all feel a little out of puff at times, but struggling with tasks you normally complete with ease or feeling tired after a full night’s rest may warrant a consult.


Illness in children

As a parent, don’t hesitate to seek medical help for any concerns about your child – particularly babies and toddlers.

For example, an infant aged under three months running a fever of more than 38°C must be seen immediately. If your child is under age two years and has a fever of 38.5°C that hasn’t abated in 24 hours, see your doctor. For an older child, you can wait 48 hours.

Be aware of signs like lethargy, refusal to eat or drink, rapid, shallow breathing or difficulty breathing, vomiting or diarrhoea. Always monitor young children closely because they may be unable to tell you what they’re feeling. Worsening of symptoms in a child of any age warrants a doctor’s visit.

Seek immediate medical attention if you or your child are experiencing these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Dizziness and slurred speech
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Visual disturbances, such as blurred or double vision


Remember that your GP should be your first port of call when your body feels ‘off’. If they feel that further investigation into these conditions is required, they will refer you to the appropriate specialist. However, in many cases, they will be able to provide the necessary treatment.

For any medical emergency, call ER24 on 084 124.

Published in Emergency

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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