As a generation, baby boomers love to think they’re healthy and fit. Many take steps to stay that way by including healthful foods in their diets and getting regular exercise — and by avoiding the medical mainstream.

Fears that seeking medical care will trigger a barrage of testing, medicines and other expensive, frightening and time-consuming interventions prevents many adults from seeking appropriate care when they’re ill, according to physician William Sturrock, M.D., a family medicine specialist with Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

“A lot of men in particular are extremely reluctant to stick their heads into a doctor’s waiting room,” Sturrock said. “Women tend to be quicker and more confident about approaching a physician when they have medical concerns.”

But both sexes often put off seeking medical care, he emphasized, with results that sometimes are serious.

While it’s usually OK to ride out a bad cold, an off-kilter digestive tract or some minor aches and pains for a few days, Sturrock said it can be dangerous to delay professional care for some symptoms. Conditions such as cancer, diabetes, internal bleeding, stroke, heart failure and infections are far more manageable when diagnosed early and can worsen quickly when ignored.

Some symptoms that should be professionally evaluated without delay include:

— Unexplained weight loss of more than a few pounds.

— A fever of more than 103 degrees, or any fever that lasts more than three days.

— An abrupt change in physical stamina, such as the inability to climb a flight of stairs.

— Passing blood in stool, urine or vomit.

— Changes in bowel or bladder routines.

— A sudden, disabling headache.

— Trouble with swallowing or slurred speech.

— Pronounced pain or swelling in one or both legs.

— Unquenchable thirst and copious urination.

— Changes in moles or other skin lesions.

Of course, Sturrock said, symptoms such as chest pain or pressure; loss of consciousness; sudden weakness, confusion or inability to speak; and sudden, severe abdominal pain should trigger a call to 911 for emergency care.

Mainers with a primary care provider should know that most medical offices offer a telephone triage service, Sturrock said. This allows patients to phone in their symptoms for evaluation by a registered nurse, who can then offer advice about whether an appointment is advisable.

Individuals who don’t have a regular medical provider can access care through a walk-in health center, Sturrock said, but having a regular provider is a better approach to managing health. Individuals also can learn a lot about their symptoms online; Sturrock suggests reliable websites such as WebMD or the American Academy of Family Physicians.

It’s understandable and even advantageous to be a cautious consumer of health services, Sturrock said, and many doctors and other providers are happy to work with patients who are wary of unneeded tests, procedures and medications. Patients should be sure their provider understands their preferences and make those preferences clear when choosing a new doctor.

Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at