Your Health

Six reasons to see your primary health-care provider sooner rather than later

Mediterranean diet.
Photo of Dr. Harold Nyhof DR. HAROLD NYHOF
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, October 14, 2016

Patients will often make appointments to see a primary health-care provider, such as a doctor or nurse practitioner, to check out problems they deem to be potentially serious.

But sometimes people misjudge the seriousness of their symptoms and wait longer than they should before finally making that appointment. The resulting delay can cause certain health problems to worsen.

In order to avoid this problem, it is important to be aware of certain warning signs that could signal potential health trouble. Here are some of the more common indicators that suggest you should be making an appointment to see your primary health-care provider sooner rather than later:

Blood in bowel movements, especially if over the age of 50 years

While this symptom may be only as simple as a curable hemorrhoid, there are other diseases that are possibly much more serious. For example, cancer of the bowel can cause this symptom. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the more likely it can be treated effectively. Other causes of bleeding from the bowel include inflammatory diseases of the bowel, such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis. While not typically as serious as cancer, they can lead to significant hardship and should be treated as early as possible.

A recent increase in thirst along with weight loss and more frequent urination

These are three of the more common symptoms of diabetes. Left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to numerous complications including heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and nerve damage. There are many very effective treatments available to control diabetes and, hopefully, prevent any serious complications. The earlier diabetes is controlled, the better the chances of avoiding further issues.

Breast lumps

Many breast lumps may be due to cysts and other minor causes. However, you should consider that cancer of the breast can also cause this symptom. Your primary health-care provider can do an appropriate examination and order tests as needed. Once again, the earlier something serious can be diagnosed, the more likely it can be cured. This advice also applies to men. I have seen three males in my practice with breast cancer.

Blood in the urine (especially if a smoker)

Any time this occurs, you should see your primary health-care provider as soon as possible to ensure tests are done to look at the entire urinary system. Your primary health-care provider will usually get urine samples, order an ultrasound or CT scan and probably refer you to a urologist (a specialist in diseases of the urine tract). Smokers are much more likely to have bladder cancer than non-smokers.

Bleeding/spotting after menopause

The definition of menopause is a woman not having a period for one year. Menopause typically occurs in women in their late 40s and early 50s. Often, if a woman experiences vaginal bleeding after menopause, it is assumed the body may be resuming periods again. However, this is actually not very common. If bleeding occurs after menopause, it should be checked out by the primary health-care provider to ensure there hasn't been the development of uterine cancer.

Lump(s) in the scrotum

While lumps in the scrotum may be normal, there is the possibility they may be cancerous. Many males are embarrassed to get checked for lumps in the genital region. However, most cancerous tumours of the testicles can be completely cured. So delaying a visit is not wise.

While the current thinking is most people need not see their primary health-care provider for a routine annual checkup, the symptoms listed above are more than enough reason to book an appointment. So don't delay. The sooner you book an appointment, the sooner you can have your health issue properly checked out.

Dr. Harold Nyhof is family practice site medical lead at Access Winnipeg West and medical consultant with the Provincial Health Contact Centre. This column or originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016.

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