May 21, 2009
Heed body signals
Feeling dizzy? Your body could be alerting you to a more serious health problem. DHANY OSMAN reports
Don't shrug off dizziness, abdominal pains or shortness of breath. Sometimes, these common bodily symptoms point to more serious health problems which could require medical attention.
Doctors say that when in doubt, it is best to seek urgent medical help.
One of the most pressing concerns for those experiencing dizziness is the prospect of a stroke.
This is especially so when the dizziness is accompanied by symptoms like facial numbness, double vision, slurred speech and the inability to stand or walk without support.
Dr Rajinder Singh, a consultant at the National Neuroscience Institute's neurology department, said that it is critical for stroke victims to receive immediate medical attention.
This is because the medication used to treat acute ischemic strokes can be safely administered only within three hours of its onset.
'Early treatment has been shown to increase the likelihood of minimal, or no, disability by about 30 per cent,' he said.
Abdominal pain usually refers to pain felt in the stomach region, between the chest and the groin.
'It is a commonly presented complaint, accounting for about 10 per cent of all emergency department visits,' said Dr Steven Lim, an associate consultant at Changi General Hospital's Accident & Emergency (A & E) department.
However, only about 7 per cent of patients admitted with such pain will have life-threatening conditions.
Diseases involving the gastrointestinal and genito-urinary tracts are the most common sources of acute abdominal pain.
These can range from peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and food poisoning to kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
Dr Lim said doctors will be alert to the elderly and women of reproductive age who have abdominal pain.
For those above 65, it is more likely to signal a life-threatening condition which can worsen.
In the case of women, Dr Lim explained that pain in the pelvic regions can often be thought to stem from the abdomen.
Such pains, he added, when associated with an abnormal menstrual cycle, can be a sign of a problem in the reproductive organs.
Those experiencing acute abdominal pain may also be suffering from a perforated stomach ulcer or acute appendicitis.
'Emergency department doctors are always on the lookout for such cases as they are likely to require surgery,' said Dr Lim.
Shortness of breath
Feelings of breathlessness can also be a sign of conditions like pneumonia, severe asthma attacks or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
It can also signal the onset of a heart attack, kidney failure or possible diabetic coma.
Dr Lai Shieh Mei, an associate consultant at Changi General Hospital's Accident and Emergency department, said breathless patients often undergo an electrocardiogram and chest radiograph examination.
For those who are severely breathless, blood investigations are also done to determine their exact condition.
Dr Lai said those with a known history of asthma, COPD or heart failure should seek treatment if there is an acute worsening of their condition.
Those without any previously known condition should also see a doctor if they develop an acute onset of breathlessness, especially when there is concurrent chest pain, said Dr Lai.