9 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore If You Have Pain
5 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore
No one wants to rush off to the ER for every little unexplained symptom—after all, random aches and pains can evaporate as mysteriously as they came on. "Women often feel that they're being silly or a bother, so they don't see a doctor," says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., author of . "It's a huge mistake—sometimes those pains are telling you that something is really wrong." When it comes to these five symptoms, extra caution is the best medicine.
Chest pain can be the result of many non-life-threatening conditions, such as acid reflux or a peptic ulcer. But it's also one of the top signs of a heart attack—and one often downplayed by women. As a result, research shows that two thirds of women who die of a heart attack never make it to the hospital because they don't recognize the warning signs, says Goldberg. "The kind of chest distress associated with heart problems is typically felt as pressure in the middle of the lower chest, just below your sternum," she explains. Other symptoms to watch out for: unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, upper-back pressure, nausea, and/or feeling faint. Goldberg's recommendation: Never attempt to self-diagnose your chest pain or worry about false alarms—just get to the emergency room.
Shortness of breath
We all get winded sometimes, especially those of us with asthma or allergies. But gasping for air while doing something that's normally easy for you (like climbing one flight of stairs), or waking up winded in the middle of the night, can signal congestive heart failure, lung cancer, or emphysema, says Melissa McNeil, M.D., chief of women's health in the division of general medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Another risk: pulmonary embolism (PE), a potentially life-threatening blood clot in the leg that breaks loose and travels to the lung, blocking oxygen and blood flow. PE is more common in women over 60, but taking oral contraceptives, which promote clotting, does increase any woman's risk.
One in five women has heavy periods, a condition known as menorrhagia. "We classify a period as heavy when you soak through a heavy pad or superabsorbent tampon once an hour for several hours," says Mari-Kim Bunnell, M.D., an assistant professor of ob/gyn at Harvard Medical School. A heavy flow can be caused by minor conditions such as a thick uterine lining, or more serious complications such as ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus), fibroid tumors (benign uterine growths), or ovarian cysts. If you think you may be pregnant, see your doctor—an ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening. Your doctor can also diagnose ovarian cysts and fibroids; while most cysts are noncancerous, fibroid tumors may cause infertility.
Fainting is due to a transient drop in blood pressure that prevents an adequate amount of blood from reaching your brain, says McNeil. This usually occurs when you're sick, tired, scared, or stressed, and doesn't generally indicate a serious health concern (though rest and relaxation is in order). "Spells that require emergency medical attention include fainting after heavy lifting or exercising, fainting without light-headedness, or taking longer than a minute to regain consciousness," says McNeil. These episodes may signal a stroke or a heart problem—both of which disrupt blood flow to the brain.
"Back pain is usually just a result of a pulled muscle," says McNeil. But occasionally, physical exertion or normal wear and tear can cause the discs that cushion your spine to slip out of place and pinch a nerve. This condition, called a ruptured disc, may require surgery, so see your doctor if your pain lasts longer than five days. If the pain is worse at night and you also experience weight loss, fever, bloating, or pain radiating down your leg, it could be even more serious. "Some aggressive forms of lung or breast cancer can spread to the bones and cause back pain," explains McNeil.
Video: 5 SYMPTOMS YOU SHOULD NEVER IGNORE
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