When something feels off in our bodies, it’s hard to tell whether it’s something about which we should panic, or if we’re just a little bit under the weather due to something normal like stress or exhaustion. There are a plethora of weird symptoms we might experience, but often they’re harmless or meaningless.
Other times, however, these signs can be indicative of some major health issues, so it’s important we don’t ignore them. Deciphering the difference between harmless and dangerous symptoms can be difficult, but it’s important to know which signs we should never neglect. Even if they don’t always point to larger health problems, they can help alert us to potential issues and are likely to warrant a call to your doctor.
Here are the changes in your health you shouldn’t ignore.
Pain After Exercise That Doesn’t Go Away
Short-lived muscle soreness after exercise is entirely normal, but longterm pain and swelling could indicate muscle or bone damage that might become permanent. If you experience consistent pain after exercising, cut down on your workouts and make sure to ice the painful area. If the pain still persists, see your physician.
Severe Head Pain
It may just be a normal headache or migraine, but a sudden overly painful headache could be a sign of a stroke, tumor or blood clot, according to Harvard Health. If you feel major changes in your head pain, if it feels like the worst pain ever, and if you experience issues with your mental functions, you should see a doctor.
Chest Pain Or Pressure
It could just be heartburn or anxiety, but chest pain or pressure can also be the sign of a heart attack, so you’re better safe than sorry. For women especially, heart attack symptoms are much for subtle than for men, so if you experience any unusual pressure in your upper body, shortness of breath, dizziness or extreme fatigue, get checked out immediately.
Losing Weight Without Trying
Rapid weight loss, as welcome as it might be, could be the sign of an underlying health condition. Consider seeing a doctor if you lose 5 percent of your weight within six to 12 months without trying. This could be a sign of cancer, depression, Parkinson’s, diabetes or something else entirely.
Odd-Looking Freckle Or Mole
Plenty of marks on your body are completely harmless, but if you have a new or irregular brown spot, it could contain melanoma. Signs of an abnormal mole include asymmetry, uneven color and a change in appearance.
If you constantly crave water and experience any swelling or rapid weight gain, it could be indicative of heart or kidney problems. Frequent thirst is also the most common sign of type 2 diabetes, so if your thirst is accompanied by nausea or fatigue, it could be something worse than mere dehydration.
Suddenly Irregular Bowels
Occasional constipation is normal, but if you suddenly have major issues going to the bathroom, it may be a sign of a greater illness. Irregular bowels can be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroidism or even Parkinson’s disease, so if the problem persists, get checked out by your doctor.
Clubbing occurs when your nail bed softens and your fingernails grow curved at a sharper angle. Aside from looking odd, the deformity could signal a serious medical condition like lung or heart disease. That’s because nail clubbing occurs when there’s a reduction in the amount of oxygen in the blood. Clubbed nails tend to grow downward and resemble the round part of an upside-down spoon. One woman in England says she was diagnosed with lung cancer after posting a curious photo of her clubbed fingernails on social media.
Worsening PMS Symptoms
New research from the University of Oxford discovered an interesting link between undiagnosed sexually transmitted infections and pre-menstrual symptoms. Apparently, women with undiagnosed STDs like chlamydia, herpes and HPV reported more negative PMS effects such as headaches, cramps and sadness toward the end of their cycle, and generally felt highly sensitive throughout their menstrual cycle.
“Our research shows that by better understanding their period and menstrual cycle, women could potentially improve their health,” says lead author Dr. Alexandra Alvergne in a news release. “If you know that severe PMS could be an indicator of an underlying STI, you are more likely to listen to your body.”
Sweet Odor On Your Breath
It’s a good idea to get tested for diabetes if you, your partner or even your dentist starts to notice a sweet-smelling odor on your breath. Acetone (yup, the same chemical that’s used in nail polish remover) is a ketone that produces a sweet and pungent smell when the body is over-producing it. Interestingly, the sweet odor could also be explained by a low-carb diet like Atkins or the buzzy keto diet.
Persistent Bloated Belly
It’s common for women to feel bloated during their menstrual cycles. Bloating can also happen after you eat or drink more than usual or eat certain foods notorious for causing bloat (we’re looking at you broccoli and other cruciferous veggies).
But continuing to feel bloated for more than two weeks after the end of your period could be a sign of ovarian cancer, according to physicians at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. And constant fatigue and persistent indigestion could also be signs of gynecological cancers that shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller told us that she initially wrote off bloating and stomach pain as “women’s issues” prior to her own ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding
More than 90 percent of women who are diagnosed with endometrial cancer experience irregular vaginal bleeding, according to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Women who have gone through menopause should be evaluated if they experience bleeding, even if it’s just spotting, the cancer center suggests. Women who haven’t yet gone through menopause should consult with a doctor if they bleed between their periods or experience heavy bleeding during sex.
Swelling In The Legs
Swollen legs can be cause for concern if you are at high risk for cervical cancer, according to University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The condition is known of edema, and extreme swelling can mean that there’s a problem with your body’s natural filtering process. Most often, a swollen leg alone isn’t a sign of cancer, unless there’s also pain, unusual discharge, pelvic pain or other cervical cancer symptoms.
Snoring isn’t just an annoying sleep disrupter. It may also put you at risk for thickening of the carotid artery, which could eventually lead to heart disease.
Seeing Flashes Of Light
Oftentimes, seeing bright spots or flashes of light could signal a migraine. Many people will see flashes of light in their eyes as they age, and most are harmless. If you notice a sudden uptick in the flashes of light you see or have other vision changes accompanied with them, it could indicate a retinal detachment, according to the American Academy of Opthalmology. You should seek immediate medical care to prevent any potential permanent vision loss, the CDC recommends.
If you suddenly have trouble thinking, difficulty focusing or notice sudden attention shifts, there could be an underlying health problem. Sometimes, these symptoms are accompanied by behavioral changes as well. Some problems may be infections, poor nutrition, adverse reactions to medications or, potentially, a mental health condition.
Feeling Full Quickly
If you consistently feel full sooner than normal or after eating less than usual, known as “early satiety,” it could potentially be caused by a medical condition. This feeling is oftentimes accompanied by other symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, bloating and weight loss, according to the Medical University of South Carolina. You should tell your doctor about these symptoms as they could be a sign of acid reflux, peptic ulcers or a more serious problem such as pancreatic cancer.
Shortness Of Breath
If you’re working out hard, are at a high altitude or are obese, you may experience shortness of breath. But if you have unexplained shortness of breath — and it comes on sudden or is severe — it’s important to seek emergency medical care. Health problems causing shortness of breath could include anything from a blood clot in the lung, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia or obstructive pulmonary disease.
Shoulder Blade Pain
Heart attack symptoms in women can be different, varying from the traditional symptoms experienced by men. For example, in addition to pain in the chest, women may experience pain between the shoulder blades. Other lesser-known symptoms can be jaw pain or a symptom that feels akin to heartburn, according to Beaumont Health, a Michigan-based healthcare system.
Strange Sensations In Your Feet
Some people who are diagnosed with diabetes already have some nerve damage. In the early stages, you may feel an electric tingling in your feet or have decreased balance or sensation, according to Health. Of course, there could be some other reasons for this, like wearing high heels or simply sitting on your foot and it “falling asleep.”
Your Nipple Turning Inward
Signs of breast cancer vary widely and, in some instances, there are no obvious signs, according to the American Cancer Society. While lumps in the breasts and breast pain are more well-known symptoms, some lesser-known warning signs include lumps in your underarm, nipple pain and nipples turning inward, according to the cancer society. Other signs include redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin as well as nipple discharge other than breast milk.
Fatigue and weight gain are known symptoms of hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. But hair loss is a lesser known symptom of hypothyroidism. Aside from heredity, other causes of hair loss include hormone changes, stressful events and certain medications, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Sudden Dizziness Or Fainting
If you’re having fainting episodes or dizziness, these symptoms are serious enough for you to make a doctor’s appointment. The issues could be caused by a number of health problems, including infections, allergies, cardiac conditions or a neurological problem.
Coughing Up Blood
A bloody cough can occur during a cold or if you have a dry throat. But if it’s persistent, there could be something more severe going on, such as a blood clot, bronchitis, cancer or tuberculosis. If shortness of breath is experienced alongside the bloody cough, it could be a symptom of pneumonia.
Vomiting blood is an even more serious symptom that needs medical attention, as it could be a sign of a bleeding ulcer, severe liver damage or tumors in the esophagus or stomach.
High Or Persistent Fever
A fever that’s 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is a good reason to call your doctor. If you have a low-grade fever that’s around 100 degrees for several weeks, it’s also a good idea to get it checked out. When you get a fever, your body is signaling that it’s fighting an infection. An extremely high fever could be a sign of a number of illnesses, including a urinary tract infection, pneumonia, inflammation of the heart lining or meningitis. A low-grade fever that won’t go away could be signaling a sinus infection or a virus, but it could also be something more serious, like lymphoma or leukemia.
It may be hard to discern between a symptom that’s no big deal and one that could be a sign of a serious underlying illness. The best idea? Call your doctor’s office and share your concerns. It’s always good to be an advocate for your health.