10 Signs of Emergency Health Problems
My family and I spent most of last Sunday over a friend’s house having a great time. Nice weather, nice wine, swimming in their sea salt water pool and good food, of course.
I was caught off-guard when the host, Greg, informed me that a month prior, he thought he was going to die. After I yelled at him for not telling me sooner, he went on to provide details.
Greg was golfing with his brother and then felt fatigued. Not a normal, out-of-shape type of fatigue but the type that presses your chest. He then did what men do: ignore it and try to continue playing the game. Again, he could barely breathe.
Greg told his brother to take him home. “All I need is to rest a little bit,” Greg insisted. To his brother’s credit, Greg’s brother took him to the emergency room. In the hospital, Greg passed out while urinating in the restroom.
After numerous vials of blood and imaging testing, the diagnosis was a pulmonary embolism (PE).
PE, not to be confused with premature ejaculation (which is what you are thinking I know) is when a blood clot travels to your lungs and causes shortness of breath, lowering of blood pressure and chest pain.
A blood clot is clumping of blood that becomes a solid mass and usually travels from the veins of your leg (deep vein thrombosis). If the blood clot does not dissolve, it causes further clumping and a lodge in the heart (causing a heart attack), brain (causing a stroke) or in the lungs (causing pulmonary embolism).
Uncontrolled irregular heartbeats, as in atrial fibrillation (Afib), can also cause blood clots. Greg was diagnosed with Afib.
Here’s the deal: if it weren’t for Greg’s brother, who followed his instinct and took him to the ER, the outcome of this story might have been different.
Men have a tendency to ignore important health signs and simply fight through things. I get it. I do the same thing. But when is that not a good idea? When should you act fast before things get worse and you die from not acting promptly? The goal here is not to make you paranoid or a hypochondriac, but to make you smart.
Here are 10 emergency health signs men should always pay attention to...
1. Chest pain
Chest pain can result from acid reflux to soreness from bench pressing or doing lots of push-ups. Clearly, if your chest hurts after a bench press workout or any chest workout, e.g. push-ups, there’s no need to run to the ER. Acid reflux can also cause chest pain. Obviously, here the concern is a heart attack, in which case urgent attention can save your life.
The chest pain in a heart attack episode is more in the center part of the chest, and it feels like a pressure or squeezing in your chest. Pain also occurs down the arm, often in the left arm and the left side of the jaw. Shortness of breath is another key symptom—which leads me to my next sign.
But before we go to the second sign, do you remember the sad story of the iconic comedian Gary Shandling’s death earlier this year? He complained to his doctor friend of shortness of breath and his doctor apparently recommended Mr. Shandling to go to the ER. Shandling’s premature demise occurred the next morning while he was calling 911 – a day after it was suggested for him to seek medical help.
2. Shortness of breath (SOB)
Shortness of breath is caused by a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism—as we saw in Greg’s case. It is also caused by pleurisy.
What the heck is that?
Your lungs are surrounded by a thin layer of tissue called the pleura. Inflammation of the pleura is called pleurisy. SOB is a serious sign and symptom, never to be ignored. In any abnormal breathing problem beyond a hard workout or going up a few flights of stairs, it is an urgent emergency situation and quick action is a must.
SOB is one of the biggest signs that something is wrong and immediate attention is required. If you remember anything from this post, let it be to not ignore , unusual and abnormal problems when breathing.
3. Unexplained weight loss without dieting or excessive exercise
This can be a sign of cancer.
4. Blood in urine
Blood in the urine is often not a big deal as it can be caused by damaged tissue in any part of the urinary system. This repairs itself with time. More serious hematuria (medical name for blood in the urine—just trying to sound smart here), which can be a sign of any problem throughout the urinary system: urinary tract infection, kidney stone (accompanies lower flank pain), prostate infection, prostate biopsy, prostate cancer or bladder cancer.
5. Inability to get it up (ED)
Inability to get it up, or ED (as in erection dysfunction, not your neighbors name), is mostly a psychological problem either through stress or performance anxiety. If it lasts 3 months or more, it may be a result of heart disease where the heart can’t pump enough blood to the organ. Prostate problems, both benign and malignant, can also be a cause of ED.
Fatigue—the excessive type, not the usual over-worked form—can likely be caused by cancer or excessive internal bleeding, sometimes from the stomach (see black stools below). Other serious causes of fatigue include Lyme disease.
7. High fever (over 103°F) for 3+ days
This can be a sign of leukemia, a type of white blood cell cancer.
8. Black poop
Black stools occur due to stomach bleeding. I’m reminded of a runner friend about eight years ago who went out for a short run one morning and came back exhausted. This guy was a marathon runner and had more post-run energy than anyone I have ever known. On my way to the ER with him he admitted to experiencing black stools for the last 3 days. That explained it. And taking him to the ER likely saved his life.
9. Problems peeing
Problems peeing are often a result of an enlarged prostate (BPH). This is not a big deal from an “urgency” perspective unless there’s an absolute obstruction where the urine does not come out.
10. Intense headaches
These are a problem especially if you are not the “headache” type. If it’s the stabbing kind, it could mean a brain aneurysm (widening of the arteries of the brain). Rushing to the ER is the way to go, as an aneurysm can result in hemorrhaging. Brain cancer can also be a reason for intense, unusual headaches.
So, what should you do?
If you experience any of these 10 symptoms, you know exactly what to do.
Suck it up, man up and finish whatever you’re doing.
But seriously, you really need to take these signs seriously and go to the ER. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. Your life is more important than whatever inconvenience a trip to the ER causes. Worse case scenario, nothing is seriously wrong. You really don’t want to be the next sad I-could-have-lived story. Or everyone else’s next sad if-only-we-knew-earlier story—because hey, you’re not going to tell it.
Stay tuned and stay well,
Geo Espinosa, N.D., L.Ac, C.N.S., is a renowned naturopathic doctor recognized as an authority in integrative management of male and urological conditions. Dr. Geo is the founder and director of the Integrative Urology Center at New York University Langone Medical Center (NYULMC), a center of excellence in research and integrative treatments for urological conditions.
For more information about Dr. Geo, please visit his website at DrGeo.com.