12 Medical Symptoms Women Shouldn’t Ignore

12 Medical Symptoms Women Shouldn’t Ignore

These seemingly innocent symptoms could lead to serious problems, so take note.

By Judy Koutsky

It’s a fine line between being vigilant and being a hypochondriac. But as the old adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. We talked to top doctors about seemingly innocent symptoms that you definitely shouldn’t ignore. Maybe it’s nothing, but either way, you’ll be glad you got it checked out.

1. Thinning hair. Many women experience thinning hair after pregnancy. This can be a normal part of the hormonal cycle. But during other times, thinning hair may indicate an underlying problem. “It can be caused by thyroid disorders or autoimmune problems,” says Dr. Arielle Levitan, a physician based in Chicago and author of the forthcoming book The Vitamin Solution: A Guide to Clearing the Confusion about Vitamins and Health. “However, more commonly, we see in our practice that hair thinning occurs because of certain key vitamin deficiencies.” Vitamin deficiencies can not only contribute to hair loss, Levitan notes, but they can cause a host of other problems. “Vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, depression, and muscle aches,” she says. “Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, lack of energy, restless leg syndrome, and more.”

2. A small dark mole. Many women disregard a new spot if they get one. “A simple dark spot can be an early melanoma,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. “It can be very small -- 1 mm, the size of a period at the end of a sentence -- and it can change the course of your life.” Malignant melanoma can be life-threatening if not caught in an early stage. “It doesn't have to be the dark, scary, crusty bleeding spot that you see in magazine photos,” says Jaliman. The best course of action? See your dermatologist for a simple biopsy.

3. Heavy periods. Women who have heavy periods may be at risk for anemia, or low blood count, which can cause fatigue, weakness, and in severe cases, heart failure, says Dr. Antonio Pizarro, OB/GYN, a specialist in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. Additionally, Pizarro notes that in women over 45, heavy periods could be a sign of uterine cancer. Women with heavy flow, clots, or frequent pad or tampon changes should see their gynecologist to discuss testing options.

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4. Frequent constipation. Everyone gets constipated every now and then, but frequent constipation coupled with abdominal bloating and getting full quickly at meals could be a sign of ovarian cancer, says Pizarro. Again, see your doctor for a full evaluation.

5. Blood in your stool. Even a little blood should be brought to your doctor’s attention, notes Pizarro. “I have a friend who was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer at age 42,” he says. “It happens, so patients should get attention for any blood in the stools (or when wiping) to rule out cancer.”

6. Leg swelling. If you’re on birth control pills or other hormonal contraception, you’re at an increased risk of blood clots in the chest and legs, says Pizarro. If you experience leg swelling or chest pain, you should bring it to the attention of your physician.

7. Going to the bathroom a lot at night. Women whose bladders function well during the day, but who have to get up to urinate more than twice at night could have obstructive sleep apnea, says Pizarro. Ultimately, unchecked sleep apnea can lead to heart and lung disease, so women should talk to their doctor and consider undergoing a sleep study, suggests Pizarro.

8. Weight fluctuation. Women often go through periods of weight gain or loss due to varying levels activity and food intake. But anunexplained increase or decrease in weight could be associated with thyroid abnormalities, says gynecologist Dr. Pari Ghodsi.

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9. Not having a period. While your period may be absent if you are on hormonal birth control or are breastfeeding, a sudden disappearance of your period could indicate a hormonal imbalance, notes Ghodsi. See your gynecologist to get it checked out.


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10. Increase or change in vaginal discharge. “Some women write this off as normal or assume it is a yeast infection, and treat themselves with over the
counter medications,” says Ghodsi. But it could be a sign of a bacterial infection or sexually transmitted disease, which would require a different approach.

11. Persistent pain with intercourse. “Persistent pain is not normal and may even point to a medical condition such as an ovarian cyst or endometriosis,” explains Ghodsi. Don’t be embarrassed to bring it up to your doctor.

12. Redness on your breast. “Redness of the breast with or without an associated lump can represent an inflammatory type of breast cancer,” says Eugene Ahn, an oncologist/hematologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. There’s often no cause for worry -- Ahn notes that the majority of the time, the redness may be due to non-malignant causes such as infection. He recommends getting it checked out by your doctor and getting a second opinion by an oncologist or breast surgeon if the area doesn’t improve with antibiotics.

What’s a medical symptom you were glad you had checked out?

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

Image ©iStock.com/svetikd

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