An Essex GP gives a dose of perspective on our worse disease fears, and tells us when it is worth panicking:-
Fear factor High.
Your GP sees a case Every six years on average. Scary symptoms Headache.
More likely to be? Sinusitis, migraine or tension headache.
Who’s at greatest risk? Children aged 5-9 and those in late middle age.
Symptoms worth worrying about Recent onset of fits, unexplained personality or behaviour changes, or increasing unsteadiness, possibly with blurred vision and repeated vomiting. Persistent and increasing headache may be present but, surprisingly, headache alone is almost never a sign of a brain tumour.
Still worried? See your GP, who may refer you for a scan
2. HEART ATTACK
Fear factor Moderate.
Your GP sees a case Fairly frequently, about eight a year, though, increasingly, patients go straight to hospital.
Scary symptoms Chest pain.
More likely to be? In younger and low-risk individuals, a pulled muscle or indigestion.
Who’s at greatest risk? The over-fifties. Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes and a family history of heart trouble.
Symptoms worth worrying about Sudden onset of severe central chest pain for ten minutes or more, which may spread to arms, neck or jaw.
Still worried? Pop an aspirin and call an ambulance immediately
3. MENINGOCOCCAL SEPTICAEMIA
Fear factor Stratospheric.
Your GP sees a case Only about every ten years. And it’s getting rarer now that children are immunised against one of the commonest strains of meningitis.
Scary symptoms A rash in your child.
More likely to be? A virus or an allergy. Who’s at greatest risk? Children under 2 and young people aged between 15 and 24.
Symptoms worth worrying about A rash that doesn’t disappear when you press a glass against it. This isn’t 100 per cent reliable, though. In young children it’s important to be guided by other signs such as drowsiness, irritability and fever. There may be vomiting, headache and neck stiffness, too.
Still worried? Get immediate medical help.
4. TESTICLE TUMOUR
Fear factor High in self-examining men.
Your GP sees a case Rarely – two or three times in his entire career.
Scary symptoms A lump in your testicle.
More likely to be? A cyst, or some veins.
Who’s at greatest risk? Those aged 25-35. A family history of the disease and previous testicular problems, such as non-descent, also increase the risk.
Symptoms worth worrying about Any lump in the testicle needs checking ASAP by your GP. But most abnormalities found by ritual self-examination are harmless; sinister lumps usually reveal themselves via an ache, a heaviness or an obvious swelling.
Still worried? See your GP, who may send you for a scan of your testicle.
Fear factor Moderate.
Your GP sees a case Reasonably often; about four a year.
Scary symptoms Numbness.
More likely to be? In younger and low-risk groups, a trapped nerve or a type of migraine.
Who’s at greatest risk? Stroke risk is linked to increasing age and to the same factors associated with heart attacks.
Symptoms worth worrying about Sudden onset of numbness or weakness affecting one half of the body, such as one side of the face and the corresponding arm and leg. There may be drowsiness or loss of consciousness, too.
Still worried? A stroke needs immediate treatment in hospital.
Fear factor Low to middling.
Your GP sees a case Two or three times a year.
Scary symptoms Pain in the abdomen.
More likely to be? Gastroenteritis, especially if you have diarrhoea, too.
Who’s at greatest risk? Those aged between 10 and 30.
Symptoms worth worrying about A constant, severe pain, which sometimes begins in the centre of your belly but which ends up – after hours or a few days, down and to the right of your tummy button. You may also have a fever and vomiting.
Still worried? See your GP today, or go straight to the hospital if you’re in agony.
7. DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS
Fear factor Very high.
Your GP sees a case Once or twice a year.
Scary symptoms A pain in the calf.
More likely to be? A pulled muscle, an inflamed vein or a ruptured cyst.
Who’s at greatest risk? The over-forties, especially smokers and the obese. Hormonal effects (such as pregnancy, the Pill or HRT) and immobility also increase the risk.
Scary symptoms Spontaneous, constant and increasing calf pain, developing over hours or a day or so, with marked swelling. It may feel warm and tender, too.
Still worried? See your GP, who may send you to hospital for a blood test and a scan of your calf.
8. CANCER OF THE CERVIX
Fear factor Moderate.
Your GP sees a case Only about once every seven years.
Scary symptoms Period problems.
More likely to be? A normal but troublesome menstrual cycle, though painful or heavy periods may also be caused by infection or endometriosis.
Who’s at greatest risk? Those aged 45-55. Cervical cancer is also linked with smoking, genital warts, early age of first intercourse and multiple sexual partners.
Symptoms worth worrying about Problem periods aren’t a sign of cervical cancer. The typical symptoms are repeated bleeding in between periods or after sex, or a persistent, bloody discharge.
Still worried? See your GP, who may send you for a colposcopy, an examination of your cervix using a microscope.
Fear factor High, especially in previous sun-worshippers.
Your GP sees a case Only about once every five years.
Scary symptoms A mole that has changed recently.
What’s it more likely to be? A benign mole, or some other harmless skin blemish.
Who’s at greatest risk? The risk increases the older, mole-ier and paler-skinned you are.
Symptoms worth worrying about Any significant change in a mole, especially enlargement or darkening, needs checking with your doctor. But moles less than 0.5cm in diameter, and those in children, are almost always harmless.
Still worried? See your GP, who may refer you to a dermatologist.
10. RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS
Fear factor Moderate.
Your GP sees a case Every couple of years.
Scary symptoms Painful joints.
More likely to be? Simple aches and pains from unaccustomed exercise, a virus or straightforward wear and tear.
Who’s at greatest risk? Rheumatoid arthritis usually starts between the ages of 40 and 70. Women, and those with a family history, are at increased risk.
Symptoms worth worrying about Symmetrical pain in joints, especially the hands, feet, elbows and knees, persisting for weeks. Especially if the joints are swollen, hot and very stiff each morning.
Still worried? Your doctor may arrange blood tests or send you to a rheumatologist.