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They May Be Subtle, But These Are Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

July 02, 2015 6 min read

There are lots of things that will send us seeking medical attention no questions asked. Chest pains, sudden trauma. No brainer. But there are symptoms of serious conditions you may be having without even knowing it. Things like thirst or snoring may seem normal to you but they may be linked to something far more serious. The folks at Prevention went to the experts to get the lowdown on these symptoms and when it might be time to seek medical attention.

1. You're losing weight without trying.

"Weight is affected by calorie intake, activity level, overall health, age, and certain medications, and economic and social factors," says Tracy Ann Siegfried, MD, medical director with the N.E.W. Program, Inc., a weight loss program in Newport Beach, CA. "If these factors contribute to your weight loss, then most likely there is not an underlying medical condition." See your doctor if: you lose 5% of your body weight within 6-12 months without trying. This is especially true if you are an older adult.  Factors that can cause weight loss include cancer, depression, dementia, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and several other disorders.

2. Your stomach hurts.

There are lots of things that can cause stomach aches and most of them are pretty benign. It could be gas pain or a strain from your last workout. See your doctor if: your pain lasts more than three days or is linked to a trauma. If the stomach pain comes with chest pain or pressure, nausea, vomiting, causes you to double over, or if your abdomen is tender or distended, see your doctor immediately.

3. You can't catch your breath.

It's normal to feel short of breath from very strenuous exercises as long as it goes away once you stop the activity. Other times, extreme temperature changes, anxiety, obesity, and high altitude can also make it difficult to breathe. These situations generally do not require immediate medical attention. See your doctor if: it's hard to breathe, you have chest pain, swelling in the feet or ankles,  trouble breathing when lying flat, high fever, chills and cough, lips or fingertips turning blue, or if it's a worsening of a pre-existing shortness of breath.

4. Your head aches.

"Most headaches do not require medical attention," says Siegfried. This includes migraines, tension headaches, those associated with lack of sleep,  skipped meals, poor posture, benign positional vertigo, sinus infections, sex, certain foods, and alcohol. See your doctor if:you have a sudden, new, severe headache, a headache associated with neurological symptoms (such as weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling, numbness or tingling, etc.) or a headache associated with a fever, shortness of breath, stiff neck, or rash, severe nausea and vomiting, or one that awakens you at night or takes place after a head injury. More than three headaches a week or ones not easily relieved with OTC meds are also signs to see a physician, says Siegfried.

5. You're feverish

Fevers usually happen when your body is cutting off an infection. Sunburn, heat exhaustion and certain medications may also cause a fever. See your doctor if: your temperature is 103°F or higher, or you've had a fever for more than three days, says Siegfried. It is also recommended you seek medical attention if you experience hallucinations, mental confusion, listlessness or irritability, convulsions, dehydration, severe headaches, skin rash, stiff neck, or pain when bending your neck forward.

6. You snore.

Snoring may be more than just annoying. "If your snoring is occasional and regular, and your sleep is restorative (you wake up refreshed) and you don't suffer from daytime sleepiness, you're likely fine," says Peter Fotinakes, MD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, CA. See you doctor if:you snore every night and your snoring is broken up by gasps and snorts, says Fotinakes. These symptoms plus daytime sleepiness may be signs of sleep apnea, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart problems.

7. You notice dark stools.

Changes in the colour of your stool isn't always a reason to panic. It may have something to do with what you've eaten. Beets, for example, can change the colour of your stool. However, these are short-lived events and can be directly associated with a dietary event," says Jack Jacoub, MD, internist and medical oncologist at MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. See your doctor if: you notice red or maroon coloured stools that aren't linked to diet and are coupled with abdominal pain, nausea, cramping, vomiting, weight loss, etc., says Jacoub. "Black stools suggest bleeding from an upper GI source, namely the stomach, and may signify an ulcer, cancer or other disorder."

8. You have an odd looking freckle.

Our skin can do lots of strange things that are no cause for concern. For example, "Soft flesh-colored growths on your neck called skin tags are also non-cancerous and usually cause no symptoms but can become irritated from clothing or jewelry rubbing them and can be removed" says Hong Nguyen, MD, dermatologist with Laser Skin Care Center Dermatology Associates, Long Beach, CA. See your doctor if: you have a new or irregular brown spot. "While most new brown spots are probably freckles, irregular brown lesions should be evaluated," says Nguyen. Visit a dermatologist if moles exhibit signs of melanoma: asymmetry, a scalloped or jagged border, multiple colors, is 6 mm or larger and/or begins to change shape, color, size, or becomes itchy or painful.

9. You can't quench your thirst.

On a hot day, being thirsty and not urinating as much after drinking can be signs of dehydration and this is fairly easy to resolve. Kristine Arthur, MD, internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. says "Thirst can also be a side effect of medications such as blood pressure medicine, diuretics, and some psychiatric medications." See your doctor if: your thirst is accompanied by swelling in the legs and rapid weight gain. These may be a sign of heart disease or kidney problems. "It can also be a sign of diabetes mellitus," says Arthur. High blood sugar causes people to urinate more so they may feel the need to drink more. If you were just dehydrated, you'd hold onto the fluid and you would not be rushing to the washroom so often. Unquenchable thirst along with nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, and fatigue should be checked immediately.

10. You pop Rolaids like candy.

Occasional indigestion is to be expected in life. But if it becomes frequent, it may be a sign of something more serious. Guy Mayeda, MD, cardiologist at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, CA. says to "Pay attention to your normal baseline." If you used to get heartburn once a month and are now getting it everyday, something may be up. See your doctor if: symptoms occur during activity or when walking, which could be classic signs of angina or heart disease, says Mayeda. "Symptoms should go away after walking around and taking antacids. If it gets worse when you start walking, it's probably not GERD."

11. Your muscles ache.

We all know when we can expect sore muscles. You BodyRockers know better than most, I'm sure. "Muscle soreness is a normal response to working out when it occurs four to six hours after exercise," says Mayeda. "Statins may also cause muscle soreness, although it's very rare unless they're taken with another drug called fibrates." See your doctor if: you experience total body aches and it gets worse over time and you feel weak and have dark urine. There might be symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a serious syndrome that results from a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases potentially toxic cellular contents into the blood and could lead to kidney failure if left untreated.

12. You're not as "regular" as usual.

Occasional constipation is normal. "Although it's not usually anything to worry about, sometimes constipation can be a sign of serious illness," says James J. Lee, gastroenterologist with St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, CA. Normal causes can include medications, lack of water consumption, lack of fiber, diet, traveling, IBS, hypothyroidism, and stress. See your doctor if: you experience new constipation that last for more than 2 weeks, you notice blood in your stool, have unexpected weightloss, your stool size becomes 'pencil thin' or you have severe abdominal pain with a bowel movement. Better safe than sorry. If you notice any changes in your normal body functioning, best get it looked at!  

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