Unfortunately, there are lots and lots of vague or seemingly benign symptoms that can indicate impending catastrophe. But, to investigate every instance of their occurrence in order to detect the one-in-a-million time they’re serious is not just expensive and impractical, but would probably cause more net harm overall. For example, a single unnecessary CT scan is estimated to lead to a one in eighty chance of cancer (cite = New England Journal of Medicine, but I don’t think it’s free full-text access).
In any case, to add to the list, there are documented cases of an ‘itchy’ nose representing angina (i.e. a possible impending heart attack). More tragically, anyone dealing with patients on an emergency basis will have a story of the 16-year-old who seemed to have typical flu symptoms (low fever, nausea, sore throat, malaise, . . .) and was dead 12 hours later from meningococcal infection.
I’ve seen two cases of pheochromocytoma where the symptoms consisted of intermittent sensations of anxiety, panic attacks essentially. Of course, the diagnoses were missed initially and it wasn’t until the patients returned to the ER in extremis (one with pulmonary edema and the other with a BP of 280 systolic and headache) that the diagnoses were made.
Another case that stands out for me was of a young woman in her 32nd week of pregnancy. She had been feeling tired and a bit “dizzy” for the last couple of weeks. And that was it; nothing more dramatic or more specific. Hardly the type of thing to get to worked up over. Both her family doc and obstetrician told her that it was common for women to feel lousy now and then during their pregnancy and not to worry about it. Just make sure to “take your vitamins and get plenty of rest”.
Then, her cord prolapsed, the fetus was found to be ‘in distress’, and an emergency C-section was done. Still, at the end of the day, there was a healthy baby and smiling mom. Forty-eight hours later, she crashed. Low blood sugar, blood pressure almost undetectable, kidneys failing, frank psychosis, and dangerously high blood levels of potassium. She had full-blown adrenal crisis (so-called Addisonian crisis). Her earlier symptoms of dizziness and fatigue had been the only warnings. And there’s no way they gave enough indication to look for adrenal disease. (BTW, is anyone curious as to why she crashed 48 hours post-partum and not earlier, say, during her C-section)?