Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe
joined Chris to tell us what health symptoms we should NEVER ignore.
Often, when we are busy trying to find balance in our lives and dealing with everyday stresses, the last thing we want to think about is that bothersome ache or nagging cough that just won't go away. Listening to our bodies can be challenging, however if we don't tune in, we could be missing something that may seem trivial but could actually be a warning for something more serious.
We know that the more obvious symptoms such as chest pain and severe stomach pain require immediate medical attention. The challenge is with the symptoms that are not so obvious and make us wonder if we need to seek help. In general, some good rules of thumb are to seek medical care if the symptom is:
1. Persistent and/or getting worse
2. Severe enough to affect your daily functioning
3. A change in your regular routines (i.e. change in bowel habits, urinary patterns, etc.)
We know that some people hold off seeking care because they do not want to bother their doctor or may feel embarrassed about their symptoms. However, please rest assured that healthcare providers would rather have people come in for a possible false alarm than to not see a patient with a symptom that could be potentially dangerous.The following list covers some examples of the not so obvious symptoms that are should be evaluated by your doctor. Some are more urgent than others, but none should be ignored:
1. Unintentional weight loss:
While this may sound appealing, losing weight without actively trying to may signal a health problem. If you have lost up to 5% of your weight within one month or 10% during the past six months, see your doctor. Possible causes of unintentional weight loss include: an overactive thyroid, depression, cancer, inflammatory conditions or a problem with your body absorbing nutrients.2. Bleeding:
Unfortunately, this is a symptom that people sometimes avoid seeing their doctor due to embarrassment or not recognizing it as serious. If you notice blood in any of the following areas, see your doctor: a. Stool -
Blood in the stool can be black/tarry or bright red in color. It can be caused from a variety of causes ranging from benign hemorrhoids to more serious conditions such as colorectal cancer, infection or inflammatory bowel disease.
- Can be related to anything from urinary tract infections or kidney stones to more serious problems such as kidney dysfunction or cancer of the bladder.
c. Sputum -
Blood in your sputum or phlegm could be a result of an infection such as bronchitis, pneumonia or tuberculosis or a lung disorder such as a pulmonary embolus (blood clot in lung) or cancer.
d. Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Irregular menstrual cycles and bleeding in between periods may be due to hormonal imbalances or conditions such as polycystic ovarian disease but it could also be related to infections or more serious conditions like cervical cancer. If you miss a period and/or have any associated pelvic pain you should be checked for possible pregnancy or a potentially life threatening ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that is not in the normal location of the uterus.)
e. Postmenopausal vaginal bleeding -
In women who have gone through menopause, any vaginal bleeding (from spotting to heavier flow) should be evaluated to rule out endometrial cancer (uterine cancer.)
Of note, if you are taking medications (i.e. anti-inflammatories, blood thinners) that can increase your risk of bleeding, be aware of this risk and be evaluated early to prevent excessive blood loss.3. Sudden weakness, loss of speech or vision:
These symptoms could be the warning signs of a stroke, transient ischemic attack/"mini strokes", or if limited to visual changes could indicate a serious problem with your eyes such as retinal detachment or glaucoma. Seek care if you have any of the following:
a. Loss of speech or trouble understanding others
b. Unexplained dizziness or difficulty maintaining balance
c. Sudden dimness, blurring or loss of vision
d. Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of your body
4. Severe sudden headache:
While headaches are common and usually not a cause for concern, a sudden or serious headache can be caused by stroke, blood vessel inflammation, meningitis, brain tumor, aneurysm or bleeding on the brain after head trauma. Seek urgent medical attention for the following types of headaches:a. Headache accompanied by fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizures, weakness, visual changes, or jaw pain
b. New onset or pattern (i.e. change in frequency, intensity, etc.) of headaches after age 50
c. Sudden severe headache unlike any other headache you've previously experienced5. Sadness or loss of interest in life:
Feelings of sadness are common and normal part of human emotion, but if you are feeling sad for at least two weeks and you are less interested in activities that previously gave you pleasure, you may be depressed. Depression may also be associated with low energy, difficulty sleeping, change in appetite or even suicidal thoughts. Speaking to your doctor about possible depression can be embarrassing and difficult to do, but anxiety and depression are common and there are many options for help available including medications, counseling or a combination of both. It is also important to note that feelings of low energy and related symptoms can also be associated with underlying medical conditions such as low thyroid, anemia, sleep apnea and others that should be ruled out. 6. Persistent Fever:
Most of the time, a fever means your body is fighting a common bacterial or viral infection. Persistent fevers (greater than 38.5 degrees Celsius lasting more than 3 days) however, can be a sign of infections and in some situations can indicate a malignant condition such as cancer. Some medications can also cause fever, so be aware of this possibility. 7. New or changing lumps & bumps:
If you feel or see a new lump that you never noticed before, seek medical care. Often new swellings can be benign conditions such as lipomas (collection of fat) and cysts, but it is important to first rule out any other possible more serious causes such as cancers like lymphoma or breast cancer. Any new or changing moles should also be evaluated to rule out melanoma or other types of skin cancers. Features to look out for in moles include change in size, color, shape and irregular borders. 8. Prolonged sensation of bloating or feeling full after eating very little:
Be seen by your doctor if you are noticing that you are feeling full earlier than usual or after eating less than usual (early satiety) or have prolonged abdominal bloating. Early satiety may be related to heartburn but also to more serious causes such as stomach, esophageal, pancreatic or even ovarian cancer. These symptoms may also be associated to other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, pelvic pressure, weight change, urinary frequency and bloating. Of note, ovarian cancer is often not found in most women until later stages which makes it more difficult to treat. If it is found early, the cure rates can reach 90%, so if you feel any of the above symptoms - get checked early by your doctor so the appropriate investigations can be done.9. Pain:
Aches and pains can come and go, but it is important to be checked for any pain is persistent (lasts longer than 3 days), severe pain, or worsening pain. Specific types of pain to watch for include:Chest pain -
Despite awareness of the need to be assessed for chest pain due to the potentially life threatening possibility of a heart attack, many people still stay home when they develop chest pain. Minutes count when it comes to chest pain that is related to the heart, so be evaluated urgently especially if you are at risk of heart disease (high blood pressure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoker). Chest pain related to the heart can feel like heaviness in the chest that can be triggered by activity and can be associated to other symptoms including shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting.Pelvic Pain -
Any pelvic pain with abnormal vaginal bleeding needs to be evaluated for pregnancy or ectopic pregnancy (the number one leading cause of death in women in their first trimester of pregnancy.) Other possible causes of pelvic pain and pain with intercourse include sexually transmitted infections (pelvic inflammatory disease), ovarian cysts, and rarely but important to keep in mind - ovarian cancer.Calf Pain
- While calf pain is usually related to muscle strain, if it is associated with swelling and redness it could indicate the presence of a blood clot in the leg, which could be fatal if it travels to the lung. 10. Difficulty breathing:
Gasping for air or wheezing can be a medical emergency. Shortness of breath can be caused by asthma, heart problems, anxiety, panic attacks, or a lung problem such as infection or more serious conditions. Seek urgent care if:a. You are unable to get your breath or gasping for air
b. You feel breathless when lying down or you wake up with shortness of breath
c. If this shortness of breath is associated with any chest pain
Paying attention to what your body is telling you is vital to your health and well-being. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms or anything that is effecting their function, take it seriously and see your doctor sooner than later as it can be easier to treat most conditions if they are caught early in their course. Listen to your body and take care of it to get back on track for a healthier you!