Our bodies routinely nudge us when something’s not right, steering us away from activities we should no longer tolerate. Here’s what your body is trying to tell you.
It’s common to feel under the weather every now and again. Maybe you have an upset stomach, back pain, or a headache you just can’t shake. When you’re plagued with a common ailment, many times you choose to ride it out rather than seek medical attention. But what happens if your upset stomach won’t calm down? Or you’re getting headaches more often than you should be? Certain health symptoms may not seem like a huge problem, but they’re actually your body dealing with something much bigger. If you’re experiencing any of these common symptoms more often than not, go see your doctor.
Unexplained weight loss
The idea of losing a lot of weight without even trying may sound like a blessing, but in reality, a sudden drop in weight can be dangerous.
“Unexplained weight loss can be indicative of many things including ovarian cancer or an endocrine or autoimmune issue,” says gynaecologist Dr Kecia Gaither. “Sudden weight loss can be serious, especially when it comes to ovarian cancer. That is known as the silent killer in women because symptoms don’t usually present until the disease has progressed really far, so it’s best to get checked by your provider early.”
If you’re noticing your waist getting bigger over a short period of time and your diet hasn’t changed, Dr Gaither warns that belly fat is another sign of heart disease. A build-up of fluids is what usually causes the abdomen to expand, and it usually means there is some type of liver or heart issue.
Losing some hair in the shower is no cause for alarm, but if you’re beginning to notice a significant difference in your hair thickness and are losing more strands than you usually do, it may be a sign of another problem. “Hair thinning can mean many things. The more serious issues being an endocrine or autoimmune disorder like thyroid disease or lupus,” Dr Gaither explains. Of course, it can also be something with a much easier fix, like a vitamin deficiency, so make sure to talk to your doctor.
Sleeping way more than usual or not being able to wake up in the morning can be a sign of depression, says Dr Gaither. It’s best to speak with your doctor about getting evaluated.
A sudden onset of difficulty focusing, keeping your thoughts straight, or changes in your behaviour is something you should bring up to your physician. Although it can be nothing, it can also be a sign of something more serious like an infection or a mental health problem. Even if you don’t think it’s a big deal, it’s always worth mentioning.
Sudden horrific headache
The onset of a headache can mean many things, but when the pain is so severe, don’t just try to pop an Advil and sleep it off. Headaches, especially if they are severe or chronic, could be a sign of something more serious. Sometimes the fix is as simple as adjusting your diet or getting more sleep, but other times the diagnosis can be more serious like a stroke, brain tumour, or aneurysm.
Blurry vision or an unexpected change in your prescription isn’t just a sign that you need new glasses. Rather, both of these can mean more serious health problems like diabetes or possibly a stroke. Contact your doctor right away.
It’s one thing to feel tired after a long day of work or spending a busy day with family, but if you’re chronically fatigued, your body may be trying to tell you something else. “Your doctor can order blood work to identify any disorders, as this can also mean diabetes,” Dr Gaither explains.
Loss of appetite
Feeling full after eating very little doesn’t mean your diet is working; in fact, this isn’t something to be taken lightly. If you are consistently losing your appetite, talk to your doctor, especially if it’s accompanied by nausea, vomiting, weight loss, or bloating. It can be a sign of ovarian cancer, ulcers, or reflux.
Jaw, shoulder, and back discomfort
Although these symptoms can mean many things if they are consistent and occur often, Dr Gaither says that it may be a sign of heart disease. Your doctor will evaluate all your symptoms together and if cardiovascular disease is the prognosis, they should send you for more testing to confirm.
Talk with your doctor about your mental wellbeing too. Dr Gaither says that any type of severe change in mood or feelings shouldn’t be taken lightly. “It’s important to get evaluated by your physician because it may mean depression,” she says.
Always feeling thirsty
Feeling thirsty is your body’s way of telling you to drink. But an unquenchable thirst may be more than just dehydration. Dr Gaither says that excessive thirst can be a sign of diabetes because high blood sugar levels cause an imbalance of water in the body. You know yourself best. If your thirst is constant and insatiable, see your doctor.
Shortness of breath
Losing your breath can be a really scary occurrence, especially if you’re not expecting it. Many times, shortness of breath that comes on suddenly can mean there’s an underlying health problem like obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, or possibly a blood clot.
Changes in breasts
Anything that looks or feels abnormal in or around the breasts should definitely be checked out ASAP. “A breast mass, change in the skin on the breast, or nipple discharge may indicate breast cancer,” Dr Gaither says. If the mass, discoloration, or discharge seems serious, your doctor will most likely send you to get a mammogram, sonogram, or biopsy. Like with any type of cancer, early detection is key.
Recurrent indigestion and heartburn
“This can be a sign of cardiovascular disease,” Dr Gaither says. “Heart disease is the number one killer in women, and symptoms usually do not present themselves the same way they do in men,” she says. Heart issues don’t always come with a clear warning sign, so get checked out if you think there is a problem.
According to Dr Gaither, having to urinate or feeling like you have to more than usual can be a sign of diabetes. “This is usually paired with fatigue and constant thirst,” she adds. But peeing often can also be a sign of other health-related problems like a bladder infection, urinary tract infection, or overactive bladder syndrome.
This is not a symptom that should be taken lightly. Dr Gaither says post-menopausal bleeding is a prime indicator of uterine cancer. “The diagnosis is made via sonogram or other radiologic procedures,” she says. Although uterine cancer is rare, early diagnosis is key. Once the cancer spreads, it is much harder to treat.
Swollen legs and ankles
Sometimes your body can get bloated in other places besides the abdomen. When that happens, you may find your feet or ankles swollen. If you’ve been on your feet all day, swollen ankles could be due to that, but if you have persistent swollen ankles or legs, it could be oedema. When fluid accumulates in certain areas of the body, this can mean a heart valve issue.
Changes in size or colour of moles
If you notice a once-round mole has morphed in size or changed colour, get it checked by your doctor ASAP. “This may be indicative of malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer,” Dr Gaither says. “Diagnosis is made by biopsy or ultrasound and treatment can include surgery followed by immunotherapy, or chemotherapy,” she says. Keep an eye out for the ABCDEs of skin cancer: asymmetry, border, colour, diameter, and evolution of the mole.
Tarry black stool
Not so surprisingly, your bowel movements can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside your body, so if they don’t look like they’re supposed to, there may be a problem. “While this may reflect oral iron intake or eating too much iron-rich foods, it’s best to notify your physician as it may indicate a bleed within the gastrointestinal system,” Dr Gaither shares.