However, there are other signs your body is telling you something is wrong that you might be tempted to dismiss as unimportant. Knowing what those symptoms are and talking with your doctor about them as soon as you notice them can make an important difference in your prognosis and the effectiveness of your treatment.
See Your Doctor if You Experience These 10 Women’s Health Symptoms
The 10 signs below aren’t always an indicator of a serious health problem, but they are symptoms to never ignore. If you experience them, contact your doctor. And if you have symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, or another life-threatening event, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.
- Discolored or swollen breast. Swelling of the breasts before your period or during pregnancy is normal. But if you have unusual or rapid swelling, or you notice discoloration like red or purple spots on your breast, these can be signs of what’s called inflammatory breast cancer. This is a rare form of cancer that develops quickly. Breast infections can produce some of the same changes, so it’s important to see your doctor so they can determine the cause of the changes and the appropriate treatment.
- Shortness of breath. Feeling winded after exertion like climbing a flight of stairs is normal. But if you find it hard to catch your breath in other circumstances or your breathing is uncomfortable, that can be caused by a tumor, blood clot, or pneumonia. It can also be a sign of stress or anxiety. Your doctor can do a physical exam and order tests to figure out the cause.
- Abdominal bloating. Abdominal bloating in women is normal after eating a large meal or around the time of your period. However, if you feel bloated much of the time or can’t eat as much as you used to without feeling full, it could be a sign of ovarian cancer or other issues.
- Unexplained weight loss. If you’ve started a workout regimen or are eating less and are losing weight, that’s to be expected. But if you haven’t changed your activity level or diet and are losing weight, that can be a sign of several health issues. They include diabetes, heart disease, celiac disease, cancer, HIV, and thyroid disease.
- Headache, dizziness, or weakness on one side of the body. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are “mini-strokes” that can cause these symptoms, along with muscle slackness on one side, vision problems, and trouble speaking. TIAs don’t cause permanent brain injury, but approximately 30% of people who have a TIA will have a full-blown stroke later.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding. Bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause can be a sign of serious health issues like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or cancer.
- Ongoing stomach problems. Having an upset stomach periodically typically isn’t a sign of serious illness. But issues like abdominal pain, cramps, constipation, and diarrhea in women can be symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other problems if they happen regularly.
- Black or bloody stools. Temporary changes in the color of your stools can be caused by the foods you eat, supplements you take (iron, for example), or drugs like diarrhea medication. But stools that are black or bloody can be an indicator of conditions like hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diverticulitis, ulcers, or cancer.
- New or changing spots on your skin. New spots that don’t look like the others you have, or a mole that starts changing shape or color can be a sign of skin cancer. You should have them looked at by your doctor or a dermatologist.
- Continual fatigue. Life circumstances can lead to temporary fatigue. But if you notice a lack of energy that recurs frequently or doesn’t improve, that can be a sign of a health issue. For example, certain cancers, liver failure, depression, diabetes, thyroid disease, sleep apnea, heart disease, kidney failure, and anemia can cause chronic fatigue.
Be Vigilant and Proactive About Your Health
The key to a good outcome with any health issue is prompt treatment. And the key to getting prompt treatment is to be aware of important female health symptoms. This doesn’t mean being worried, but rather, being vigilant and then taking action if you notice anything concerning.
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