9 Symptoms You Should Never Ever Ignore. By Amber Brenza.
We've all done it—brushed off a minor ache or pain because we were too busy or too tired or just plain didn't feel like it. And most of the time, the discomfort goes away and doesn't turn into anything more. But sometimes the feeling that something's just not right lingers, and it could be a warning sign of a bigger underlying issue. Here are 9 symptoms that you just can't ignore, no matter what.
After you've gone through menopause, you should never experience vaginal bleeding again—period. When a post-menopausal woman experiences vaginal bleeding, it's clearly abnormal, says Julian Schink, MD, chief of women's health for Spectrum Health Medical Group. While it could be a sign of something small, like a hormone imbalance, there's also a chance the symptoms could point to endometrial cancer or uterine cancer. The same goes for uncharacteristic discharge in women of any age; though it could signal an easily treatable infection, copious amounts of discharge (or very foul-smelling discharge) could be associated with cervical cancer or fallopian tube cancer. (Read more about what different types of discharge could indicate.) Bottom line: "You need to contact your gynecologist right away with any of these symptoms and be very clear while explaining them," says Schink.
Most of the time, when the number on the scale drops, it's from working your butt off at the gym and loading up on kale. So when that extra five pounds comes off without any effort, it may be cause for concern. "Colon cancer is commonly associated with unexplained weight loss," says Schink. Colon cancer is easily preventable through regular colonoscopies—something everyone over 50 should have every 10 years, unless directed otherwise by your doctor. For those under 50, hormonal abnormalities like hyperthyroidism or diabetes could be to blame for dropping pounds unexpectedly.
Getting up once in the middle of the night is annoying, but probably harmless. But if that gotta-go feeling gets you up 3 or more times during your slumber, something's not right. One reason: a mass could be pressing on your bladder, says Schink. But don't freak out yet—not all masses are cancerous. Many benign ones (like uterine fibroids) can compress your bladder, causing the frequent bathroom breaks. Diabetes could also be to blame, especially if you're experiencing excessive thirst that just can't be quenched. "It's a partnership: If you're going to the bathroom more often and drinking more often, then a lightbulb should go off in your head that something's not right," says Schink. (Here are 7 things your urine says about you.) Keep an eye out for fatigue, as well—you're more likely to fall victim to dehydration (and tiredness, as a result) with all those bathroom breaks.
It's normal to feel bloated after greasy takeout. What's not normal is feeling that way on a daily basis. Despite its rarity—only about 1 in 70 women get it—ovarian cancer could be to blame. "One of the most common signs of ovarian cancer is abdominal bloating," says Schink. The belly discomfort is either caused by a large mass in the ovary or fluid build-up in the abdomen. You may not feel pain, either: "It's more an awareness of discomfort. It's a constant, dull pain, and that's the difference," says Schink.
We're not talking about the Monday slump after a great weekend. This kind of fatigue is tiredness that just won't go away, regardless of how much sleep you get or how much coffee you drink. But fatigue can be connected with a slew of conditions, says Schink. It could be evidence of uterine cancer or gastrointestinal cancer caused by anemia; excessive tiredness could also be a sign of hypothyroidism, depression, or other mood disorders. Schink's rule of thumb: If you're getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep each night and you're still dragging throughout the day, it's time to see a doctor.
If you look down and see that one of your legs has ballooned from its normal size, you should immediately seek medical attention. A swollen leg could be a sign of a blood clot, and without immediate treatment, that clot could migrate to your lungs and possibly even be fatal. One likely cause of these killer clots are extra hormones or birth control pills, but a range of cancers, like pancreatic, colon, and clear cell carcinomas could also be to blame, says Schink.
No one likes to be nauseated or queasy, but the feeling doesn't usually last for more than a day or two. But if you're fighting stomachaches, awful indigestion, or feeling incredibly full on the regular, something else may be up with your gut. According to Schink, the miserable sensation could be associated with a mass or appetite suppressing chemicals from a variety of cancers like ovarian, colon, and stomach.
By now, you should probably know what your nether-regions look like. But for those of you who haven't taken a mirror downstairs, pink is the color of a healthy vagina. So when the vulva doesn't have its signature rosy hue, something's off. "It starts with pigment or texture changes," says Schink, who warns that if you ignore these signals, they could develop into vulvar cancer, characterized by pigmented or white lesions, or raised irregular surfaces on the vulva.
"Even if it's just vague pain, it's not supposed to hurt down there," says Schink. Any type of pain—sharp and sudden or dull and lengthy—should be checked out right away. Some potential causes of aches down south include masses, diverticulitis, or endometriosis—all of which should be examined immediately.