(Before we go any further, a word of caution: Bookish.com is a book discovery and recommendation site. No one here is a doctor; no one here even plays one on TV; no one here has any serious medical training, nor does anything we write mean you have one condition or another. If in doubt, see a doctor, OK?)
Do you really want to sit in a doctor's waiting room reading old magazines, sharing breathing space with other sick people? Many don't, so the name of the game now is self-diagnosis. Doctors, of course, aren't happy about this trend, because though we humans self-diagnose, we can't also self-administer drugs and treatments, so medical practices are rife with sick people wandering in, announcing they have Rocky Mountain spotted fever, only to be told by trained physicians that what they actually have is a rash caused by a change in laundry detergent. No one wins--not the doctor, who feels her eight years of medical school have been wasted and her years of experience slighted, and not the patient, who really thought you could get Rocky Mountain spotted fever without ever going near the Rocky Mountains (well, you can, but . . . see the problem?).
So, in the interests of doctor-patient peace, we at Bookish thought we'd offer a primer on the things you think you have, and the real ailments they often turn out to be. We're not saying you have either--but before you jump to terrifying conclusions, read a book; if nothing else, it'll take your mind off your galloping beriberi.
Reality? Strep Throat
If one second you're fine and the next you have a screaming sore throat, chances are it's the dreaded strep. One of the biggest issues surrounding strep throat--aside from the intense pain--is that many people think it's merely the flu or a cold, and don't get it treated. (A simple course of antibiotics typically takes care of strep in under a week.) But beware: Avoid reading online what can happen if strep remains untreated and spreads to other organs. Suffice to say, you really don't want to get acute nephritis (OK, OK, go look it up if you have to). If you do have the flu, on the other hand, there's not much you can do except wait it out--and with all that time on your hands, read Gina Kolata's classic account of the 1918 epidemic (40 million died worldwide) and count yourself lucky it's 2013.
Fear: Heart Attack
Reality? Anxiety Attack
You have palpitations and your heart is racing or skipping beats like a dubstep DJ. You may have trouble catching your breath; you may think you're going to puke. You know you're having an attack, of some kind, but what kind--heart or just anxiety? The symptoms of the two very different conditions are extremely similar, so much so that emergency rooms treat thousands of patients each year for anxiety when they were admitted for possible heart attack. The key difference, and one to bear in mind even if you're incredibly anxious, is that heart attacks usually come with significant chest pain--in short, it really hurts. Before you get to that stage, it's worth picking up a copy of Dr. Arnot's guide to avoiding a heart attack in the first place.
It's an unfortunate fact that migraines and strokes can share similar symptoms, including problems with vision and numbness and/or tingling in the face. But there is one crucial difference between the aura one gets with migraines and a stroke, which Dr. Jose Vega [insert link] calls the difference between "negative" and "positive" phenomena. In migraines, the aura is often manifested with flashing lights in vision (positive phenomenon); in the stroke victim, it is much more likely to be a case of some function disappearing (such as a paralysis, hence negative phenomenon). In addition, many migraine victims get the dreadful headaches from an early age, whereas strokes are more likely to strike later in life. Vega cautions that in some people the differences are impossible to tell for sure, so it's better to get yourself checked out if you're concerned. Dr. Oliver Sacks, in "Migraine," approaches the painful subject as a way in to another of his trademark discussions about the complexity of the human brain.
Recently, an editor at Bookish was complaining that he was getting hungry at 11:30 each morning, and worried that he had a tapeworm. Given that he's svelte, who's to say he doesn't? Well, let's all hope he's just hungry, because tapeworms are nasty. There are more than a 1,000 species and they can get really long (the beef tapeworm tops out at 65 feet, but the whale tapeworm, polygonoporus giganticus, bears out its name by reaching over 100 feet). If you have a tapeworm in your gut, you may also have nausea, diarrhea, weakness and/or fatigue, weight loss, pain in your abdomen and in some cases weight loss and/or hunger or loss of appetite. The good news is, you're probably just a bit peckish in the late morning. If you're still not convinced, Nathan, try reading Dr. Pamela Nagami's "The Woman with a Worm in Her Head & Other True Stories of Infectious Disease"--her horror stories will make you hope that a big ol' sandwich will set you right.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, the fancy name for extreme PMS, features any number of unpleasant symptoms, including but not limited to depression, mood shifts, irritability, lack of concentration, tiredness . . . the list is long. Significantly, that same list goes on to include weight gain, food cravings, sleeping too much and breast tenderness, a.k.a., the same damn things you feel when you've conceived. Depending on how you feel about having a baby, this may be good news or bad; either way, pick up a copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting," if you're not just PMS'ing. Mazel tov?