by stresswinner on January 30, 2010

Stress causes many  symptoms  – about 70% of patients visiting the family doctor and anxious or depressed rather than physically ill.  However, it’s a mistake to put all symptoms down to ‘stress’ when there is something really wrong. Here are some tips on when to be concerned about serious illness.
Chest pain is common when we’re stressed, but if it’s heart disease (angina) it tends to be severe and constricting,  like a tight band around the chest – often brought on by exercise and relieved by rest, radiating into the neck and commonly the left arm, often accompanied  by cold sweats, and shortness of breath. Heart disease is  more likely if you are over 30, male, a smoker, have a family history of heart attack, but symptoms are not always typical  – especially in women and the elderly.
Headaches are more likely to be serious if they are  severe, have started recently, are getting worse, happen mostly in the morning, and are accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, double vision, blurred vision, weakness or numbness of one side of the body, difficulty with  coordination, dizziness, blackouts, convulsions or stiff  neck.  These are some of the symptoms of a brain tumour or bleeding in the brain from an aneurysm.
Feel short of breath? If  it’s  getting steadily worse, is accompanied by chest pain or persistent cough, if you’re on the  birth control pill, are a smoker, or have had a leg injury in the last year or two then you should be checked for a blood clot in the lung, pneumonia, or other serious lung disease.
If you have swallowing problems you should be investigated if this is always present rather than being just an occasional tight feeling in the throat when you are under stress.
Stress causes lots of ‘stomach’ upsets – that’s why they’re called ‘gut feelings’!  But a persistent change in bowel habit, especially if accompanied by bleeding or mucus, abdominal pain, or weight loss,  calls for a thorough check – especially if you’re over 40 – and always when there is a family history of bowel tumors or polyps.
Tiredness:  Anxiety and depression are very common  causes of  tiredness, but suspect other illness if you’re tired and have: Weight loss or gain, Skin changes or hair loss, Change in bowel habit or blood in the stool, Change in menstrual cycle,  Localized  chronic pain, Drinking and urinating more, Shortness of breath on exertion or during the night.  Everyone has ‘the blues’ occasionally, but depression is a potentially very serious, and sometimes fatal, illness.  Some of its symptoms are similar to those of anxiety, and it’s quite common to have a depression as well as ‘stress’.
This description of symptoms is a very brief, general guide. The most important factor in dealing with symptoms, whether caused by stress or a serious illness, is a good working relationship with your family physician. Know your symptoms of stress,  and you’ll  feel more able to take control. The earlier you can recognize the symptoms, the more easily you can take steps which give you control.

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