Benign symptoms, but actually a medical emergency - examples?

Happened to my next door neighbor’s 19 y/o son. He was fine at dinner Friday and dead by late Saturday night. He started presenting symptoms at bedtime Friday which meant that by morning Saturday he was already pretty close to the edge. The fact his parents are an MD and an RN made this pretty hard on them; they’d thought it was flu until too late on Saturday to stop the avalanche.

Many people with cancer show benign or even almost no symptoms.

I get them all the time. If any of them were so severe and disabling and they lasted more than a day, I’d get myself (or actually have someone take me) to a doctor pronto.

What’s a really scary, seems-to-be-an-emergency symptom, but is actually a relatively benign condition, is an ocular migraine. The first time I had one of those, I thought I was developing a detached retina and was going to lose my vision. Imagine all of a sudden seeing everything through a kaleidoscope. I was terrified I’d become blind and permanently disabled. I was so relieved when I found out what it actually was. I should probably start another thread on medical conditions that present symptoms that seem like a medical emergency, but are actually benign.

Yeah, I probably should have phrased that better: “so a TYPICAL stroke or heart attack don’t qualify.”

Bingo! Well done.

The baby’s cortisol was able to cross the placenta and support mom. Once that source was removed, the mother was on a quick, inexorable trip towards adrenal crisis. We thought the case was actually quite instructive, so ‘wrote it up’ and got it published (in a not-too-bad journal at that).

On one episode of Dr. G. they featured a case of a teenage girl who had some slight stomach cramps and was feeling tired, so she laid down on the couch for a nap. She never woke up.

It turned out she had an ectopic pregnancy and it had burst (something along these lines, my memory is a bit fuzzy) and she basically bled to death inside of her abdomen.

A friend was on vacation in another country when he started feeling poozly - achy, low energy, a little of this, a little of that; thought it was a flu of some sort. A day or two later he went to the local hospital, where a routine blood test revealed leukemia, very close to crisis point. They were able to treat him - he’s still under treatment - but he was told that he would have been dead within three or four days if left untreated.

Here’s one memorable ‘case’ I dealt with. A guy maybe late-50’s in fairly good health, managed hypertension.

He’d had occasionally very-sharp but persistent dullish pain that began “right above my butt crack” and had worked upwards into ~chest area over previous week or so. Denied any trauma or other things. Said pain really wasn’t all that bad, but wife was tired of him griping over it, so there he was.

I did the CT scan (chest/abd/pelvis) and on very first slice displayed (just above diaphragm) I could see a MAJOR problem and Radiologist sitting there with me (lunchtime!) said “HOLY SHIT” and grabbed phone for ER Doc - “Get over here NOW! This guy’s aorta is about to burst apart”. Finished the scans/recons/3d’s and it looked like his aorta had (apparently) begun splitting close to where it bifurcates and slowly ‘burst’ up entire length of aorta (past renal arteries, and along one of 'em a bit) and around aortic ‘knob’. Visually, most of aorta (origin to bifurcation) had appearance like a hard-boiled egg thats been rolled around on surface to crack shell, ‘crackly-looking’, I guess. Aneurysm(s) galore.

Another oddity about appearance of films was that his entire GI system (stomach to rectum) had little ‘specks’ of particulate-looking densities, just packed with 'em. He had been eating Tums and Rolaids to try and take care of his ‘heartburn’, of which he did have a prior history and likely had him thinking ‘same old thing again’. It looked like he had eaten/chewed-up hundreds+ of the tablets trying to alleviate his pain. Apparently, pain would come and go such that he thought it might’ve been helping, so he ate all he could of those calcium tablets until he finally came to ER. Not heartburn, sir.

Classic case (imho) where something of seemingly trivial ‘origin’ (~benign when first began) had given waaaay more than enough time/notice for stopping of progression and MUCH easier to repair, etc. I do not know the outcome (live-v-die). Might’ve been sent elsewhere, but no further X-rays as I did check a few weeks later. Initially the guy desired to walk to CT room (maybe a minute walk away, no biggie) as he did not want a wheelchair - “I walk fine and ain’t hurting right now”. He rolled back on a stretcher, though. Things changed after I was done with him :wink:

I’ve known two other persons to become dead-right-there from aortic aneurysms, both ~very old and not as surprising as the above fellow (‘professionally’ speaking, that is). Both had complained of vague belly/chest pains and waited for days+ despite spouse getting on their case about it. Of course! That’s how us guys are - the fish are biting, dear…

God, this is the most depressing and frightening thread I’ve read in years.

You should realize that the vast majority of people who have a medical emergency will experience symptoms that unmistakeably indicate a serious problem. The cases in this thread are the rare, but very interesting ones where the symptoms belie the seriousness of the condition.

Aren’t heart attacks a bit odd. My mum died of a massive heart attack (how the doctors described it). She complained of neck pain, shortness of breath, bright lights, but I kept asking her “are you having chest pain.” She said “NO.” She was an RN so I figured she ought to know if her chest hurts.

I thought it was maybe asthma or something. She had a touch of that. If she had said, “I have chest pain,” I’d have whisked her off to the ER ASAP.

Never read the “no symptoms, then bam your dead!” thread then :slight_smile:

Might as well add in my mom on this one. Her benign symptom was that one day I noticed she had a very slight mumble when she spoke. (So slight I wasn’t sure if I was actually hearing anything.) I figured maybe it was the surgery she had a month earlier. Maybe they injured her throat a little and I’m just noticing it now. Hey, if anybody wants to take a guess what she actually had feel free. I’ll put it in a spoiler so you can try to guess first

Nope, not a stroke. Don’t I wish it were just a stroke. Good guess though, that’s what her PCP originally thought. It was neurological though. Try again.

She had ALS, aka Lou Gherig’s disease. She went down hill very fast. Lasted only a few months which was weird because right before her diagnosis she could easily walk 1/2 a mile. By the end she could barely walk a few feet a day.

I’ve done lots of SPECT cardiac scans, and I can verify that symptoms of ‘positives’ can be all the place (literally). Left shoulder, neck, fingertips, face, legs, combo of lots of the above - heard lots of various Sx’s from patients. Imho, there’s no concrete way to say ‘only these symptoms’ period. Its that infamous YMMV kinda thing there. The ‘chest pain’ is one that is most recited, of course.

Had one 80-ish+ years old retired FBI fellow, a former Golden Gloves Boxing national-champ that had worked personally with J Edgar back in ‘the days’. * Tough* steely ol’ bastard that totally maxed out the treadmill test. Few folks endure the entire duration of a modified Bruce protocol (iirc), even youngish ‘athletes’ often quit ~mid-test/target heart-rate with no cardiac probs found on scan. This ol’ FBI-guy had like single-digit % of living heart tissue (forget the % exactly, but unbelievable initially). The images/%-loss was so low that the Rad and Cardio Docs came to me and had me redo, three times, the recons/computations as it was a ‘record low’ for the time. My confidence was good, though. It all added up, but seemed to be of a near-zombie (honest)! I would hate to try and kill that patient - he’d look and laugh as he kept a-coming! He was like 6.5 feet tall, skinny, and had one of those ‘pork-pie’ hats, kinda like this one . He was legend once the scan I did was ‘confirmed’ at a different hospital - made me ~doubt myself with him beating that treadmill into oblivion :cool: Tell ya what, J Edgar did earn his rep for having ‘tough agents’…damn!

I had a girlfriend once that would swear she had hepatitis every single time she read the (vague-sounding usually) symptoms on a pamphlet or commercial somewhere. A bad hypochondriac she was. Don’t miss her at all…

ETA: sorry your Mom went that way, Markxxx. I wish that illness was better ‘defined’ myself. So many times there’s lots of head-scratching until its figured out.

So, (and I’m not being snarky), when I get indigestion or a tingling sensation in a finger, should I rush to the ER?

Melanoma being a key example. Virtually symptomless, and if it spreads to a distant organ, it’s game over (or at least, it used to be).

Just to add to this thread the obvious that various toxins have benign symptoms but can be deadly. e.g. carbon monoxide poisoning.

At least the conditions on this thread have the good grace to put you out of your misery. I’m more worried about really painful conditions that can linger chronically :frowning:

Don’t ask me, I’m not a doctor! :smiley:

Since I’m currently dealing with a herniated disk, I’ve heard (repeatedly) a lot of the symptoms for cauda equina syndrome. It seems that some patients don’t have many symptoms at all beyond lack of bladder control and numbness in the genital/saddle area, which might not seem as serious as it is, but it is a medical emergency requiring surgery to correct. It seems this can be the first real signs of a herniated disk (amongst other issues), so patients who don’t know they have a back injury might not realize the severity of it.

This thread reminds me of a forum I stumbled across a while back (likely linked from a thread here) that was full of medical professionals telling war stories (especially ER stories). I find this stuff fascinating. Anyone know what forum I’m thinking of? I can’t remember much more about it, unfortunately, so Google searches aren’t being very helpful.