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How to Use the Symptom Checker

The first purpose of this guide, Symptom Checker, is to help you determine how sick you or your child are and if you need to call your doctor. The second purpose is to help you treat yourself or your child at home when it is safe to do so.

Your doctor's advice and your good judgment should always take precedence over information in these topics.

  1. Choose the Appropriate Topic. Both Children's topics and Adult topics are arranged in groups by body part.

    Choose the topic that most closely matches you or your child's symptoms. If there is more than one symptom, address the most serious symptom. Serious means the symptom that potentially could cause the most harm to you or your child.  (Example: for nosebleed and head trauma together, use the Head Trauma guideline.) If you aren't sure which guideline to use, use more than one guideline.

    Caution: Do not use the fever guideline unless fever is the only symptom. If cough, diarrhea or another symptom are also present, go to that topic instead of fever. Choosing the appropriate symptom is very important because it leads you to the best information for you or your child's illness or injury.

  2. Read the Symptom Definition. Go to the chosen topic and read the Symptom Definition to be sure it's a good fit for the problem.  If not, consider related symptoms listed under "See More Appropriate Topic."

  3. "Read the "When to Call your Doctor" Sections. Following the Symptom Definition in each topic, there is a "When to Call Your Doctor" section, which gives options for what action you should take, including Call 911, Call Your Doctor Now, Call Your Doctor in 24 Hours, and so on. (See the separate page on When to Call the Doctor for definitions of each action.)  Below each option is a list of symptoms/reasons for choosing that option. Read through these bulleted items. Read from top to bottom and don't skip any symptoms or reasons. The purpose of these is to help you determine the seriousness of you or your child's situation.

  4. Symbols: > means more than or greater than < means less than or smaller than.

  5. Follow the Suggestions in the "When to Call your Doctor" Section. If you or your child have even one of the serious or other "Call Your Doctor" symptoms, stop reading the list of reasons to call your doctor and take the action suggested in the heading at the top of the list. If the recommendation is to call your doctor within 24 hours or during weekday office hours, refer to the Home Care Advice section for self care advice until then.

  6. Follow Home Care Advice. If you or your child do NOT have any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms, follow the Home Care Advice listed in the final section. But be alert to any worsening or new symptoms. If you or your child's condition changes for the worse, calling your doctor again is a good idea.

  7. Reader's Responsibility. You are in control of this process. If you think you or your child needs to be seen, call your doctor for assistance. If you think you're dealing with a medical emergency, call 911 NOW or go the nearest emergency department.

  8. Copyright Protection Notice: All rights reserved. No part of this program can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author and publisher. It is prohibited to make or distribute any unauthorized copies of these guidelines for personal or business purposes, to create derivative works, etc. These guidelines are copyright protected and are not available for any of the following purposes:
    • To use as a template or model for writing a commercial product, be it printed or software.
    • To use as a reference when writing a commercial product, be it printed or software.
    • To use as a resource for updating a commercial product.

If you think that you are having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!

And when in doubt, call your doctor NOW or go to the closest emergency department.


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