When your husband or children come down with the flu, you make doctor’s appointment for them right away. When your child fell off the jungle gym at school, you rushed him to the urgent care. But, do you find that you ignore your own ailments and give them less of a priority?
You don’t need to answer that.
The fact is, women everywhere put their loved ones’ health before their own. And as noble as it is, you won’t be doing you or your family any favors if an ignored symptom turns into something serious. See your doctor for yearly checkups and, in between, listen to your body for these symptoms, which should never be ignored.
Being tired is one thing, but if you’re fatigued, it could be more than an overloaded to-do list. “Fatigue could be a sign of an underactive thyroid gland, which is common in women as we age,” says Heidi S. Weaver, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) at the Bingham Memorial Women’s Center. Called hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid can also lead to weight gain, sensitivity to cold, dry skin and hair, and muscle aches. It’s easily treated with medication.
Fatigue could also be a symptom of anemia, depression or sleep apnea, all of which should be treated.
2. Unusual Bleeding
Rectal bleeding could be due to hemorrhoids or a sign of colon cancer, so it’s best to get it checked. And if you are postmenopausal and you experience vaginal bleeding, see your doctor.
“It rarely is endometrial cancer, but it’s easy to diagnose with biopsy,” says Dr. Weaver. “Another cause might be atrophy. That’s when the walls of the vagina become thin and cause spotting.”
3. Leg Swelling
If you have swelling in one or both legs that can’t be attributed to injury, get it checked. Swelling in one leg could signal a blood clot. Other symptoms include skin redness, soreness and warmth in the affected leg. And if you take birth control or hormone replacement, are obese or have traveled recently, you’re at higher risk for blood clots. Seeking treatment quickly is key. Otherwise, you run the risk of the clot breaking off and traveling to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, which can be deadly.
Swelling that occurs in both legs should also be evaluated. It could be a sign of heart, kidney or liver failure.
4. Chest Discomfort
Even when we women have a symptom as serious as chest pain, we still lean toward explaining it away as indigestion. “But just like men, we have to worry about heart disease,” Dr. Weaver says. “Don’t think just because you’re a woman you’re immune from heart disease.”
If you have chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back, seek immediate medical attention. While men typically describe heart attack chest pain as “crushing,” women might feel a fullness or pressure in the chest. And sometimes they don’t have chest pain at all. Women are more likely than men to experience more subtle symptoms of heart attack, including shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck or jaw; or just feeling as though “something isn’t right.”
5. Suspicious Lump
“Don’t ever disregard a lump,” Dr. Weaver says. But there’s no need to panic, either, as most breast lumps have nothing to do with cancer. They’re most often caused by fibrocystic changes (associated with the menstrual cycle), fibroadenomas (benign tumors) and cysts (fluid-filled sacs that can appear anywhere in the body).
Any lump should be evaluated. Other reasons to call your doctor include dimpled breast skin, nipple discharge, an inverted nipple or a bruise on the breast that cannot be explained.
Seven More Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore
Do you have symptoms that didn’t make the list? Here are seven more symptoms from Dr. Weaver that should prompt you to call your doctor:
1. Change in appearance of a mole
2. Excessive hair loss
3. Heart palpitations or feeling like your heart is racing
4. Persistent abdominal or pelvic pain
5. Severe headache
6. Unexplained weight loss
7. Unusual bloating
The bottom line is to listen to your body. If you feel something is wrong, get it checked out. Chances are, it’s nothing. But at least you’ll have peace of mind. And that’s priceless.
Our content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.