10 Questions That Could Save Your Life

What you need to ask the doctor when every moment counts.

By Pamela F. Gallin | MD from Reader's Digest | February 2007

For most people, the flu is a nuisance. But for the immune-compromised, chronically ill, and aged, it can be deadly. Every year, 36,000 Americans die of the flu or its complications, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized.

But how do you know when you really have it? Flu is caused by a virus and typically lasts three to four days, with symptoms including fever, chills, aches and pains, stuffy nose and dry cough. But if they last more than a few days without improving, you need to see your doctor and ask:

“I’m still feeling terrible. Considering my medical history, what else could be wrong with me?”

You’re directing your doctor to narrow the list of possible diseases, tests and treatments. The details of your history and symptoms should lead the investigation to the right answer, helping your MD catch the problem and possibly save your life. For example, your doctor might recommend a chest x-ray or CT scan to spot pneumonia or the early stages of lung cancer. Or she may run blood tests to find infections like mononucleosis, strep, staph and Lyme disease.

Chest Pain
If you experience sudden chest pain that radiates to the left arm, are cold and clammy and feel horrible, you could be having a heart attack. These symptoms appear more often for men than women, whose heart attacks frequently go undiagnosed.

If you don’t have the classic symptoms but are experiencing chest pain on the right side, mild chest pain in the form of an ache, a general lousy feeling with shortness of breath, or heartburn and/or indigestion that won’t go away, whether you’re a man or a woman, call 911 or have someone drive you to the ER and ask a doctor:

“Am I having a heart attack? Let’s not wait — can we please be sure and ‘draw the enzymes’?”

When heart muscles don’t get enough blood, the damaged muscle releases its enzymes into the bloodstream. You may be given other tests in the ER as well. But a simple blood test can quickly measure the levels of these enzymes and clearly indicate if you’re having a heart attack.

Bottom line: Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men and women. Nearly twice as many die from heart disease and stroke than from all forms of cancer. Take your symptoms seriously and get immediate help.

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