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Symptoms that call for the doctor

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How can you tell the difference between a medical problem that will go away on its own and one that should be attended to immediately? Dr. Elaine Alpert of Boston University School of Medicine writes in the June issue of Reader's Digest New Choices magazine about the following symptoms you should call your doctor about:

Continuing weight loss. Everyone's weight fluctuates insignificantly. But if you lose 10 pounds or more without intending to, you should look into it.

Persistent headaches. Everybody gets headaches now and then. If you have had the same pattern of headaches for years, chances are that it's going to continue that way for years more. But if your headaches are so severe that you miss work or social gatherings, or if over-the-counter painkillers don't help, see your doctor.

Chest pain. If your chest hurts, don't panic, but do look into it. Most times, chest pains are probably not a heart attack. But if a dull, pressurelike chest pain comes on for no reason, call an ambulance and get to an emergency room immediately.

Abdominal pain. All of us suffer from abdominal pain occasionally. The causes are many and most times it can be easily cured. But whatever the possible cause, have it checked out.

Bruises and bleeding. If you develop mysterious bruises in places that aren't prone to being bumped, see your doctor. Also make an appointment if you notice any rectal bleeding, vaginal bleeding after menopause, blood in your urine or any blood when you cough or vomit.

Sadness. Being sad or blue from time to time is a normal component of human emotion "and deserves attention but not necessarily medical intervention," Alpert writes. "If you feel sad or irritable most of the day for at least two weeks, however, and you take less interest in activities that once gave you pleasure, then it's time to seek help."