Many times, the body warns us about the need to pay more attention to our health by indicating that something may be wrong. Some symptoms are easy to identify as potentially serious health problems, but sometimes our bodies warn us in more subtle ways. While some people may not understand these signs or realise that they require medical attention, some are more alert and take necessary actions. The following are symptoms that you should pay particular attention to:
Swollen or discoloured breast
Breast swelling can be normal, especially before a period or during pregnancy. However, if you have unusual or new swelling, you need to be concerned. Rapid swelling or discolouration (purple or red spots) may be signs of inflammatory breast cancer – a rare type of advanced breast cancer that develops quickly with significant fatality rates. Breast infections can also have very similar symptoms. If you see skin changes or other changes in your breast, it is wise to see your healthcare provider.
Abdominal bloating is a common menstrual symptom, but some food sensitivities can also make you feel bloated for a day or two. Abdominal bloating that lasts more than a week can also be an early sign of ovarian cancer. Other ovarian cancer symptoms include feeling full quickly after eating, difficulty eating, a frequent need to urinate, a persistent lack of energy, post-menopausal bleeding, abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge in pre-menopausal women. These symptoms are easy to overlook and many cases of ovarian cancer aren’t identified until later stages.
Bloody or black stools
Stool colour can vary depending on the foods you eat and the medications you take. For example, iron supplements and diarrhoea medications may turn your stool black or tarry. Black stool suggests you have bleeding in your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Maroon-coloured or bloody stool suggests bleeding lower in the GI tract. These are signs you should see your doctor. Bleeding may be caused by haemorrhoids, ulcers, diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and other gastrointestinal conditions.
Shortness of breath
It’s normal to feel short of breath after climbing up the stairs or running to catch a bus. But being short of breath after a light activity could be an early sign of a serious lung or heart problem. One potential cause of shortness of breath is coronary ischemia – a lack of blood flow in the heart muscle caused by a partial or complete arterial blockage. Both a partial and complete arterial blockage may also cause a heart attack. Heart failure, pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs) can also cause shortness of breath. Seek immediate medical help if you have shortness of breath and begin to experience chest pain or discomfort, nausea and light-headedness.
Ever so often you may likely experience bouts of tiredness due to issues such as lack of sleep. But if you’re feeling exhausted constantly, it might be time to see a doctor. Constant tiredness could be a sign of a medical problem. Conditions that cause fatigue include depression, liver failure, anaemia, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, thyroid disease, sleep apnea and diabetes.
Unexplained weight loss
It’s normal to lose weight if you’ve changed your diet or started working out. But weight loss for no apparent reason can be concerning. Possible causes of unexplained weight loss include cancer, HIV/Aids, celiac disease, diabetes, heart disease and thyroid disease. Unexplained weight loss should be investigated to determine if there are any underlying medical issues.
Chest or facial hair
Facial hair growth isn’t just a cosmetic concern. The growth of hair on the chest or face is usually caused by elevated levels of androgens (male hormones). This may be a symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. Other symptoms associated with PCOS include adult acne, obesity, irregular periods, high blood pressure and insulin resistance which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes
Chronic stomach problems
Occasional stomach problems shouldn’t be a major cause of concern, but chronic stomach problems could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhoea and constipation and it’s easy to confuse its symptoms with an upset stomach or a bad meal. Irritable bowel syndrome is more common in women than men and is treatable with diet and lifestyle changes. Medication can also help with symptoms. Stomach symptoms can sometimes be a sign of other serious health problems such as cancers. If you’re experiencing ongoing issues with your digestive system, it is wise to consult with your doctor for further investigations.
Vaginal bleeding after menopause
Menopause occurs in middle age when a woman stops ovulating and she stops having monthly menstrual cycles. Menopause refers to the time when your menstrual periods have stopped for at least a year. After menopause, some women continue to experience symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, but if you have vaginal bleeding after menopause, it is a cause for concern. It could be a sign of a serious health problem including uterine fibroids, endometritis and even cancer.
Transient ischemic attack
All adults should know the symptoms of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIAs are sometimes referred to as “mini-strokes” but unlike a stroke, a TIA does not cause permanent injury to the brain. However, about one-third of people who have had a TIA will have a stroke later on.
Women generally have less incidences of TIA and strokes than men before menopause, but their risk is markedly increases after menopause due to loss of protection from female hormones. Symptoms of a TIA or stroke include sudden weakness; muscle slackness, often on one side of the body; headache; dizziness; loss of vision in one or both eyes; trouble speaking.
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult your healthcare provider.
Contact Dr Maxwell on 363-1807 or 757-5411.