10 Health Symptoms Women Should Never Ignore
What your chronic fatigue, bloat or headache could be trying to tell you.
Maybe you’ve been too busy to get to your doctor about that fluttering feeling in your heart or the fatigue that just won’t let up. Or maybe you’re scared these symptoms might mean something more serious is going on.
These symptoms, as well as the others listed here, can signal a serious illness. If you experience any of these, follow up with your doctor right away.
1. Extreme fatigue. Constant fatigue that makes doing anything difficult may be a sign of a thyroid condition, heart disease, diabetes or anemia. Chronic fatigue is also linked with depression, cancer, sleep apnea, asthma and a weakened heart muscle.
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If you’ve been flat-out exhausted for longer than a two-week stretch, and you can’t seem to get back on track with proper rest, nutrition and exercise, see your doctor.
2. Abdominal bloating and a change in bowel habits. Occasional tummy trouble isn’t a major cause for concern, but persistent bloating and stomach pain should definitely be looked into.
Abdominal pain can signal a stomach ulcer, appendicitis or a gallbladder problem. According to the American Cancer Society, pelvic pressure and feeling full after eating small amounts of food are signs of ovarian cancer.
If you notice a major change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days, take note. Chronic diarrhea, constipation or blood in the stool can be a sign of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or diverticulitis.
See your primary care physician if you think something could be wrong.
3. Chest pain or pressure. Heart disease is the number-one killer of women. Despite this, most women don’t head to the doctor unless it feels like something huge is sitting on their chest. If you feel completely worn out or have pain or discomfort in your chest, don’t take these symptoms lightly. Heart disease symptoms in women tend to be more subtle than in men. You may feel a mild discomfort or “belching” sensation similar to acid reflux. These could be signs of coronary artery disease, which puts you at increased risk of a heart attack.
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If you ever feel chest pain or pressure that doesn’t let up after several minutes, get to the ER.
4. Heart palpitations. Drinking too much caffeine can make your heart flutter, and so can anxiety. But chronic heart palpitations can signal an irregular heartbeat or atrial fibrillation, says the American Heart Association. Either of these conditions increases your stroke risk. This is especially true if you have other heart disease risk factors such as being a smoker or having high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Palpitations could also be a sign of heart valve disease or hyperthyroidism. Go over your symptoms with your doctor to find out what’s going on.
5. Shortness of breath. Feeling like you can’t catch your breath can signal heart disease and even an impending heart attack. Shortness of breath is also associated with asthma, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer and blood clots.
If you’re continually having trouble breathing, especially if you also have other symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, nausea or chest pain, get emergency medical attention right away.
6. Skin changes. Know your skin! Some breast cancers show up as red or thickened skin rather than the expected lump.
If a mole, freckle or wart looks or feels different, or you have a new growth or sore that won’t heal, see a dermatologist right away to rule out a skin infection, melanoma or other skin cancer.
7. Leg swelling. If one or both of your legs are noticeably swollen, especially after you’ve been traveling in an airplane or car, see a doctor. Swelling in one leg can mean a blood clot. Women are at increased risk of blood clots during pregnancy and six to 12 weeks after delivery. If the swelling is in both legs, this could be a sign of preeclampsia. This condition affects pregnant women, causing high blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the baby, according to the National Institutes of Health. Other causes of leg swelling include kidney or liver disease.
8. Pelvic pain. If it hurts to pee or have sex, your body could be trying to tell you that you have a gynecological problem such as a vaginal infection or endometriosis.
Pain while urinating, along with unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge when you don’t have your period or after menopause, could signal uterine cancer. Schedule an exam with your OB-GYN.
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9. Chronic migraines. The challenges of work and family life can definitely trigger headaches. But if you have chronic headaches, get checked by your doctor.
You could be suffering from migraines. Women get migraine headaches three times more than men, in part due to fluctuations in estrogen levels. Headaches can also be a symptom of a stroke, aneurysm, tumor or brain infection.
10. Unexplained weight loss. If you’ve lost weight and aren’t dieting, you could be depressed. Depression is linked with loss of appetite. But so are a host of other medical conditions. For instance, if you also have gnawing pain in your stomach, back pain, yellow skin and dark urine, these could be signs of pancreatic cancer.
If you’re losing weight without trying, especially if you lose more than 5 percent of your weight in six months to a year, talk to your doctor.