Originally Written by S. Nicole Lane for Medtruth.com
It’s common for women’s bodies to change, especially with age. Women may ache, develop stretch marks, become less flexible or begin to feel pain in new places.
All of these alterations are common and expected. But sometimes, common changes can indicate a deeper, underlying concern or something more malignant.
Here are 10 health symptoms that women should never ignore, especially if they are persistent and chronic.
Sudden Breast Changes
Checking breasts is a necessary exercise both at home and while visiting a physician. When performing an at-home breast check, any changes in skin color, texture, and swelling are all reasons to see a healthcare provider.
During menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, hormonal changes, the breasts may be swollen, lumpy, and tender. Feeling a lump or firmness in your breast or under your arm are women’s health signs that could indicate cancer. Nipple discharge, another side effect that could occur from birth control pills, medicine or infection, may also be a sign of cancer.
Vaginal Bleeding, or Change in Period Color
Menstrual bleeding happens approximately every 28 days and lasts between 3 to 5 days. If you experience bleeding between periods, however, you should see a professional. Serious conditions can be accompanied by vaginal bleeding, especially if you have gone through menopause.
Regarding color changes, pink, clear, yellow, and rust are normal hues for vaginal discharge. Grey vaginal discharge is a symptom of bacterial vaginosis (BV). Symptoms that accompany BV are itching, irritation, a strong odor, and redness around the vulva. Antibiotics can be prescribed by a doctor for BV.
If any pain, burning, or discomfort during urination occurs, make sure to tell your doctor.
Sudden Weight Changes
Unexplained weight gain is categorized as something that occurs after a person has documented and paid attention to their diet and exercise. Once they know for sure that they aren’t overeating, they can begin looking into deeper issues.
An overactive thyroid problem is the first area that a medical professional may look into. According to the American Thyroid Association, one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder. Hyperthyroidism symptoms also include fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, or constipation.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is another concern that affects one in five women. Facial hair, irregular periods, and migraines are symptoms of PCOS and create irregular hormones. Unexplained weight gain is related to how the body uses and processes insulin.
Of course weight gain could also be a more serious, but rare, concern like an ovarian tumor. Other concerns for weight gain could be stress, depression, medicine, or dehydration.
Unexplained weight loss could be a sign for a larger, more concerning medical issue. Dementia, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and heart failure—to name a few—could be various serious reasons why someone is losing weight unexpectedly.
Mayo Clinic advises that patients look at how much, and how rapidly, weight has been lost before visiting a professional. If you lost more than 5 percent of your weight within six months, there might be a serious issue.
WomensHealth writes that patients should “brainstorm any changes that have occurred in your lifestyle, eating habits, or sleep schedule, as well as any symptoms that you’ve been shrugging off, such as fatigue or headaches,” before visiting a doctor.
Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath can be symptom can be a sign of a heart attack, especially in older women. Accompanied by symptoms of fatigue, sweating, and neck or jaw pain, this could be a warning sign for a heart attack in the weeks to come.
If shortness of breath occurs when someone isn’t participating in physical activity, then they should visit a doctor immediately. Your doctor will probably check your pulse and blood pressure to eliminate any signs of a heart attack.
Sudden Vision Changes
It’s rather surprising to discover that hormones can play an important role in your vision. Sudden changes to vision can be triggered by pregnancy, menopause, and puberty. If vision changes during pregnancy, it typically returns to normal. During menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease and a woman’s vision can become less nearsighted.
Another cause of changes in vision can be diabetes, specifically through a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy damages blood vessels in the retina. Diabetic eye disease can also contribute to loss of vision, or floating spots within eyesight.
Double or blurry vision, on the other hand, may be a sign of a stroke. Stroke also includes symptoms like dizziness, face drooping, loss of balance, slurred speech, and weakness.
Constant Bathroom Breaks
In a Tonic article, Thomas Chi, an associate professor at the University of California San Francisco’s department of urology said that “Overactive bladder is a vague diagnosis.” It’s agreed upon that it can be difficult to find a “normal” when there is no “normal” in how often someone needs to go to the restroom.
Medication and lifestyle play a huge role in someone’s bathroom breaks. Going to the bathroom 20 or more times a day can be unusual, however. And if you have trouble holding in your urination, then there may be an underlying issue.
Chronic pelvic pain is something that should be looked into by someone who is experiencing it for approximately six months. Pelvic pain can also mean something more sinister, like a tumor or ovarian cysts.
Endometriosis is when the cells inside of the uterus grow outside on the ovaries, bladder, or rectum. This can cause various issues like pain during sex, painful bowel movements, pain during urination, lower back pain, and infertility.
Interstitial cystitis (IC), a commonly misdiagnosed condition, is when someone has an inflamed bladder. Constant urination, discomfort during urination, and pain during sex are other symptoms that affect those with IC.
Experiencing swelling of the legs can mean a plethora of things. In some cases, swollen legs may indicate the presence of a blood clot.
It’s imperative to seek medical help when you have swollen legs along with chest pain, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, dizziness, or if you are coughing blood. If your legs are swollen for no reason or are painful, seek immediate care.
Bloating or Hard Stomach
Having a hard stomach can be a sign of too many carbonated drinks, but it can also be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or diverticulitis. IBS comes with symptoms that include bloating, cramping, gas, and abdominal pain, while diverticulitis is an inflammation of the digestive tract and causes a painfully bloated stomach.
Seek medical attention immediately if you have bloody stool, difficulty breathing, unexplained weight loss, yellowing skin, and nausea.
Of course, it’s easy to read any of these issues and assume the worst. It’s best to concentrate on your body to notice any changes. Keep a journal to track how your body is feeling throughout the week.
If you’re experiencing pain that is persistent and debilitating, contact an unbiased medical professional who will give you a thorough examination. Your body is trying to tell you something. It’s time to listen.
S. NICOLE LANE
S. Nicole Lane is a freelance journalist based in the Southside of Chicago where she covers women’s health, the LGBTQ voice, arts, and entertainment. Her byline can be found in Playboy, Rewire News, i-D, Broadly and various other corners of the internet. She is also a visual artist who works with small-scale sculptures.