10 symptoms that should never be ignored

Not every ache and pain merits a quick trip to the doctor -- but some do.

The November issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource outlines 10 symptoms that should never be ignored.

1. Trouble seeing, speaking or moving

Numbness or paralysis on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, and blurred or decreased vision are classic signs of a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), a ministroke that sometimes lasts only minutes. More atypical symptoms are fainting, shortness of breath or sudden feelings of facial pain, tiredness or a racing heart. Women may have the traditional stroke symptoms less often than men but also may be more likely than men to experience atypical symptoms first.

For any stroke symptoms, immediate emergency medical care is needed. Quick treatment for stroke can reduce the risk of brain damage or other complications.

2. A sudden excruciating headache

A headache that comes on like a thunderclap, with severe, excruciating pain could be caused by an aneurysm, bleeding in the brain, stroke, blood vessel inflammation, meningitis or a brain tumor. All require immediate medical attention. In addition, a headache that follows a head injury or is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or speaking difficulties is reason to seek care.

3. Unexplained weight loss

Losing weight without trying can be cause for concern. A doctor’s appointment is warranted for a loss of 5 percent of body weight in one month, or more than 10 percent in six to 12 months. Underlying medical conditions could be an overactive thyroid, liver disease, depression or even some cancers.

4. Any breast change

A doctor should be consulted about a lump, nipple discharge or distortion, itching or skin changes (redness, scales, dimples or puckers), persistent breast pain or a change in breast size or shape.

5. Vaginal bleeding after menopause

Vaginal spotting or bleeding after menopause may be caused by changes in vaginal tissue, which can become thinner and more fragile as estrogen levels decrease. In some cases, however, postmenopausal bleeding can be a symptom of gynecological cancer. A medical evaluation is important.

6. Change in bowel habits

Mild diarrhea that lasts more than a week, constipation that lasts more than two weeks, or unexplained, sudden urges to have a bowel movement are reasons to consult a doctor. Also on the list are bloody diarrhea or stools that are black or tar colored. These symptoms could result from infection, medication side effects, a digestive disorder or colon cancer.

7. Feeling full after eating less

Feeling fuller than normal after eating less than usual could warn of gastrointestinal problems, ranging from indigestion caused by acid reflux to some cancers. If this feeling lasts for days or weeks, a physician should be consulted, especially if other symptoms are present such as nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or bloating, fever and chills or weight changes.

8. Persistent cough

A cough that lingers more than a month, is affecting sleep or brings up blood or sputum, is cause for a checkup. A chronic cough could be caused by asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a respiratory tract infection, chronic bronchitis or even lung cancer.

9. Sad or depressed mood

Feeling sad for weeks or months is a symptom of depression, a medical illness that’s treatable. Other signs might include a loss of interest in normal activities, feeling hopeless, crying easily, trouble concentrating, unintentional weight loss and thoughts of wanting to die.

10. Persistent or high fever

A doctor should be consulted when a low-grade fever (100.4 to 103 F) persists for more than a week. Fever can indicate a urinary tract infection or more serious illnesses such as immune disorders or cancer. A sudden high fever, greater than 103 F, requires immediate evaluation.

Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic. To subscribe, please call 800-876-8633, extension 9751, or visit www.bookstore.mayoclinic.com

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