A racing heart, a funny lump on your eyelid — you probably think you’d know instinctively whether to see a doctor about such signs.
But in some cases, it can take a casual remark from a stranger to make you seek a diagnosis.
Here, ANGELA EPSTEIN talks to five people whose serious illnesses came to light quite by chance.
Roddy Riddle's customers said he looked trim after he dropped two and a half stone in six weeks. It turned out he had type 1 diabetes
WEIGHT LOSS COMPLIMENTS REVEALED DIABETES
Roddy Riddle, 51, who owns a cycle shop, lives in Inverness with his wife Lynn, 51, a secretary, and their three children, Alasdair, 15, Isla, 14, and Finlay, ten. He says:
'I wasn’t remotely concerned when customers started telling me I looked trim. There was a ‘cycle to work’ scheme in our area and business was booming.
'I’d get to the shop at 4am to assemble new bikes ready for the first customers at 9am, and work on through. I’d eat normally but my weight was dropping and people were telling me I looked great.
'I’m 5ft 9in and in six weeks I lost 2½ st. I just thought all this activity was burning off the calories.
'The constant comments prompted my wife to Google ‘sudden weight loss’ — and up came type 1 diabetes. She urged me to see my GP, but I had tickets to see Glasgow Rangers play St Petersburg and didn’t want to miss the game.
'In the end, I gave in and cycled to my doctor’s surgery, where he checked my blood glucose levels. They were sky high at 45 [a normal level is between 4 and 7]. I was astonished.
'My GP sent me straight to hospital where I was told I had type 1 diabetes. It means your body can’t make a hormone called insulin to regulate your sugar levels. It is irreversible and can be genetic. Apparently, it was only because I was so fit that I hadn’t fallen into a diabetic coma.
Mr Riddle, 51, from Inverness, now uses an insulin pump and has cut back on sugar
'I’m now using an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor, and have cut back on sugar.
'If you can keep your diabetes under control, you can live a healthy life. But I hate to think what could have happened if I’d just enjoyed the compliments about losing weight and done nothing.'
EXPERT COMMENT: Dushyant Sharma, a consultant diabetologist at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, says: ‘Undiagnosed type 1 diabetes causes blood glucose levels to rise, and this glucose is passed out in the urine. Glucose is highly calorific, so Roddy would have been losing weight even if eating normally.
‘With later onset type 1 diabetes — say, when the patient is over 40 — classic symptoms such as thirst and fatigue are not as obvious.’
Lara Buckle, from South London, had a lump on her eye lid which turned out to be cancer. It was pointed out by her beautician
BEAUTICIAN SPOTTED MY SKIN CANCER
Lara Buckle, 33, is a trainee nutritionist from South London. She says:
'I treat myself to a facial every few months, and last November, while assessing my skin, my regular beautician pointed out a lump the size of half a pea on my right eyelid.
'I’d noticed it itching a few weeks before but assumed it was a stye. I’ve had them before and they’re no big deal. But my beautician insisted I get it checked out at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
'The doctor there gave me some anti-inflammatory drops to stop the itching and took a biopsy.
'I didn’t give the whole thing much thought, even at this stage. So I was stunned when I was called back a couple of weeks later and told I had a type of skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma. Hearing the C-word was so shocking.
'I had to have a specialist type of surgery called Mohs, where the surgeon progressively removes thin layers of skin and examines them until only cancer-free tissue remains.
'Fortunately, the cancer was contained, although my consultant said it was very unusual to see someone so young with it. I did use sunbeds for a summer in my 20s and lived for a year in Australia, but now I always use SPF 30.'
EXPERT COMMENT: Dr John Ashworth, a consultant dermatologist at Warrington Hospital near Manchester, said: ‘Basal cell carcinoma is slow-growing and normally occurs on the eyelids or nose. People often mistake it for an ingrown hair or spot.
‘Although it rarely spreads throughout the body, it can grow, making it very difficult to remove surgically. I have had patients needing three-quarters of an ear removed.’
Adrian Banks, 52, was told to see a doctor after a shop assistant saw him veering to the left. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's
MY GAIT WAS A SIGN OF PARKINSON’S
Adrian Banks, 52, a wealth manager, lives in Cornwall