Oftentimes, people dismiss minor health symptoms as nothing more than the flu or common cold. But in reality, such symptoms could indicate something much worse. While not every ailment leads to a fatal illness, some do point to a potentially serious disease. Whether you’re the type of person who swears off the doctor or mistakes a small pain for a cancerous tumor (thanks WebMD), here are 10 health symptoms that could be major red flags.
1. Changes in bowel habits
Staying regular is crucial to staying healthy. While what’s considered a normal bowel movement varies from person to person, it’s usually fairly easy to detect an issue based on changes in smell, shape, color, consistency, and frequency. Sometimes, what you eat can trigger quick, or no, bowel movements. While this generally passes after about a day, some things you should watch for include bloody, black, or tarry stools, persistent diarrhea or constipation, unexplained urges to have a bowel movement, or abdominal pain and the failure to pass gas.
2. Constant fatigue
Usually one can tell the difference between being overtired, even for weeks on end, and feeling fatigued at bizarre times. If you find yourself experiencing the latter, it’s best to have blood work done. According to Prevention, excessive exhaustion can be caused by a variety of conditions, including hypothyroidism, depression, and anemia.
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3. Chest pain
One of the biggest red flags of a heart attack is unbearable chest pain. Additionally, the American Heart Association says other symptoms include pain in the arm(s), back, or jaw, shortness of breath, and nausea. Although chest pain is nothing to take lightly, it doesn’t always signify a heart attack, either. According to WebMD, other conditions include asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and esophageal contraction disorders.
4. Sudden, terrible headache
For those who don’t normally suffer from migraines, it’s especially important to seek medical attention if you experience a sudden, severe headache. According to Cleveland Clinic, this could be a symptom of a brain aneurysm. Furthermore, headaches can result from a slew of other conditions. According to the National Headache Foundation, this type of pain could be a symptom of stress, glaucoma, or arthritis. If your headache worsens in seconds to minutes and is unlike anything you’ve felt before, get to the doctor right away.
5. Sudden weight loss
The desire to lose weight isn’t uncommon, so it’s only natural that sudden weight loss may seem like your hard work is finally paying off. But don’t be too happy when your weight drops with no explanation, as it could indicate a serious problem. More specifically, losing 5% of your body weight in a short amount of time may be cause for concern. According to The New York Times, sudden weight loss may result from depression, certain types of cancer, and chronic infections, such as AIDS. There’s a laundry list of other explanations, which is why this symptom is one you should never ignore.
6. Shortness of breath
While shortness of breath can stem from intense exercise, extreme temperatures, high altitude, or obesity, it’s worth monitoring. If this comes on suddenly and is pretty severe, call the doctor. According to Mayo Clinic, shortness of breath may indicate asthma, carbon monoxide poisoning, or heart failure. Although it may turn out to be something less serious, there’s no harm in having a doctor check you out.
7. Abdominal pain
Stomach pain can be tricky, as it’s sometimes due to constipation or a strenuous workout. Other times, however, it can be far more serious. If you have sudden and severe abdominal pain, it’s important to seek medical attention. As Dr. Zachary F. Meisel notes in a Time article, belly pain can be caused by a myriad of issues, and can also be difficult to diagnose. Abdominal pain culprits range from appendicitis and gall bladder disease to life-threatening conditions, such as a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. If your pain lasts more than three days or is accompanied by chest pressure, pain, nausea, or vomiting, get help immediately.
8. Lower back pain
Even though lower back pain can be difficult to ignore, it’s often written off as just another part of getting older. Suddenly, you can’t lift as much as you used to, or you find yourself having to adjust positions throughout the day. But if you’ve ignored the pain too long, it can easily become a major cause of frustration. It’s important, however, to recognize when your back pain deserves a doctor’s attention. According to Spine-health, adults between the ages of 30 and 60 are more likely to experience the pain from a lumbar disc herniation or from a back muscle strain. Adults over 60, on the other hand, are more likely to experience pain as a result of osteoarthritis or a compression fracture. Either way, it’s important to see a spine specialist for a proper diagnosis and to receive a treatment plan, such as surgery or physical therapy.
9. Changes in vision
Most people know their vision will inevitably change over time. Perhaps you had perfect vision just a few years ago, and now you have to wear glasses. Well, don’t go freaking out over your need for your newfound accessory, as some sort of vision decline over the years is quite common. However, noticeable changes in vision could also signify something much more serious. According to VisionAware, conditions that can eventually lead to blindness include diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
Feeling dizzy often comes with not-so-serious illnesses, like the flu or common cold. But sometimes, it can indicate something more serious and longer lasting. If you struggle with feeling dizzy, and it doesn’t let up, you could have vertigo. According to the UCSF Medical Center, “The sensation is best described as spinning, whirling or moving vertically or horizontally.” If you wind up with a vertigo diagnosis, treatment includes medication, certain types of rehab training, or even surgery.