Finding a lump on your body can be a scary moment, one that will prompt most people to make an appointment with their doctor. A headache or a fever, even if intense and persistent, may not trigger the same reaction — but perhaps they should. Sometimes vague symptoms are actually alarming signs of an underlying health problem that needs medical attention — like these warning signs you may have diabetes.
Very often ambiguous symptoms indicate mild ailments that will go away on their own or with minimal treatment. For example, most headaches are caused by dehydration — you fix them by drinking a lot of water; and symptoms like fever and diarrhea tend to come from stomach bugs that go away on their own.
But some conditions may linger with no obvious signs. This is where self-awareness comes in. No one knows your body and what’s normal for it better than yourself. Mild pain is not usually a cause for concern, but when it’s accompanied by certain other, even if minor, symptoms, it may need to be evaluated. You may not even realize how many “harmless” things you’re doing that are aging you much faster than you think.
Chronic conditions don’t develop overnight. They develop over many months or years. It’s important to pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. Small and seemingly insignificant changes are its way of telling you something needs to be fixed.
To compile a list of 25 health symptoms that are often considered so vague that people ignore all the time, 24/7 Tempo spoke to specialists in different medical fields and reviewed information on chronic conditions and their symptoms from independent and government health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society, and the National Sleep Foundation.
1. Intense headache
Headaches, even migraines, are very often caused by dehydration. This is easily fixed — drink a lot of water and most of the time this will suffice. But sometimes a headache is a sign of a more complicated health problem, including tumor, brain swelling, and infection in the brain. Sometimes the cause can be an emergency, such as carbon monoxide poisoning, bleeding in or around the brain, or a stroke, according to the National Institutes of Health. If the headache is severe as in “the worst ever,” sudden, and it comes with other symptoms such as vomiting, stiff neck, high fever, or nausea, call your doctor right away.
2. Severe stomach pain
Oftentimes, stomach pain is caused by indigestion, constipation, a virus, or gas. But stomach pain or discomfort can also be a sign of heart attack in women, according to the American Heart Association. If this is the case, however, the pain will often be intense and will be accompanied by other symptoms such as jaw pain, some discomfort in the lower chest area, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or nausea.
Snoring is very common — about 90 million Americans snore, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Half of them have sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder characterized by repeated stops in breathing during sleep. Snoring does not always indicate sleep apnea, but it should be treated as it may be an early sign of future health problems. One study found that snoring may increase the risk of hardening of the arteries, which can lead to vascular diseases. These are America’s heart disease “capitals.”
4. Dark circles under the eyes
Dark circles under the eyes can be confused for a not very serious problem, but they may indicate an allergy. Known as allergic shiners, people often think they are just aging or perhaps not getting enough sleep, said Dr. Tania Elliott, spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. “The truth is blood vessels under the skin dilate in the setting of allergic reactions, and because the skin under the eyes is so thin, you see the result of that dilation in the form of dark circles.”
5. Unexplained weight loss or gain
If a person has not changed his or her daily routine at all and has lost 5% of body weight or 10 pounds with no obvious reason, he or she should be checked out by a doctor. The weight loss may be the result of several possible underlying conditions. It may be a sign of cancer as cancer cells use up the body’s energy supply, according to the American Cancer Society. It may also indicate thyroid problems, dementia, depression, Celiac disease, dental problems, and even heart failure, which can actually be the reason why you can’t lose weight.
Weight gain can be a side effect of certain medications, Cushing’s syndrome (high cortisol levels in the blood for a long time), Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which makes women resistant to insulin, leading to weight gain, and an underactive thyroid.
6. Difficulty sleeping
Difficulty sleeping is a little known allergy symptom, Elliott explained, as are difficulty concentrating and decreased productivity. Having trouble sleeping may also indicate diabetes because high blood sugar levels may cause night sweats and lead them to wake up to go to the bathroom a lot. Waking up a lot and trying to catch your breath may be a sign of heart failure because too much body fluid has accumulated around the lungs. A dysfunctional thyroid can also cause sleep problems because it can overstimulate the nervous system, making falling asleep more difficult. It is also among the health issues that can lead to memory loss.
7. Numbness in feet
While not an emergency, feeling numbness in your feet for a week or more should be checked out by a doctor. It may be a sign of diabetes, according to Dr. Kent Feldman, a foot surgeon in San Diego, California. High sugar levels in the blood can damage nerves throughout the body. Numb feet can also indicate nerve problems in the lower back, he noted. The nerves going to the legs can be compressed, leading to the lack of sensation.
A sudden drop in blood pressure, which usually feels like dizziness and lightheadedness, is another little-known symptom that can occur in the setting of a severe allergic reaction, Elliott said. “This is why we tell patients to lay down and elevate their legs right away if they feel a severe (anaphylactic) reaction coming on.”
9. Chest pain
Chest pain or discomfort is a symptom of acid reflux. If this is the underlying cause, standing so your body is in a straightened position will usually help. If, however, the problem is more serious, such as heart disease, it will keep hurting regardless of the position. Angina — chest pain caused by the heart not getting enough oxygen — can be stable or unstable. The latter may require immediate medical attention to prevent a heart attack. (These are the states with the most heart disease.)
10. Sharp neck pain
Neck pain is often caused by spasms or a strain after holding awkward positions for a long time, such as sleeping on a pillow that is too high. Neck pain, however, can also be caused by chronic conditions such as arthritis. Meningitis, a potentially deadly condition, can also lead to neck pain because of the inflammation of the tissues around the spinal cord. The bacterial infection, however, would most likely come with other symptoms such as a severe headache and fever. Fever is one of these 11 medical conditions aspirin may treat.
11. Frequent nausea
Nausea after eating contaminated or spoiled food is familiar to most people, and usually not a major cause for alarm. Feeling nauseated when you haven’t eaten or have eaten very little, on the other hand, is not normal. Especially when accompanied by other symptoms such as stomach pain or tenderness, nausea can also be a symptom of fluid buildup around the liver and intestine, which can hinder digestion and may indicate heart failure.
Chronic nausea may also be a symptom of peptic ulcer disease, problems with muscles in the stomach, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and cancer, according to Stanford Health Care.
12. Blurry vision
Blurred or double vision, while associated with many different conditions, is among the most common indicators of stroke, according to Harvard Medical School. When the blood flow to the brain is cut, the visual field part of the brain can get damaged, causing vision problems as well as loss of balance.
Blurred vision is also a common sign of diabetes. High blood sugar levels may damage the lens inside the eye, causing it to swell, resulting in temporary blurring of eyesight. These are other warning signs you might have diabetes.
13. Jaw pain
Women experiencing jaw pain, especially when accompanied with pain in the neck, throat, chest, or stomach, should see their doctors. It may be a sign of heart disease. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, causing one in every five female deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
14. Shortness of breath
Having to catch one’s breath without apparent reason (such as running up 20 flights of stairs or other intense physical activity) may be a cause for concern. Acute shortness of breath may be a symptom of a problem requiring urgent medical care such as heart attack, severe allergic reaction, or upper airway obstruction. Chronic shortness of breath may be a sign of asthma, lung disease, as well as various heart problems. People at risk may want to stock up on this juice to decrease it.
15. Asthma attack
People often ignore seasonal allergies, thinking symptoms such as a cough or runny nose are caused by their allergies and don’t need to be treated. But untreated allergies are correlated with the development of asthma, as well as sleep apnea, poor work productivity, and sleep disturbances, according to Elliott. Environmental allergens such as pollen, cat, dog, mold, and dust mites can cause respiratory symptoms, including asthma attacks, she added.
16. Chronic fatigue
Feeling tired is probably among the symptoms that are ignored most often. It’s easy to ignore. Busy schedules, lack of sleep, and stress are just a few of the many common factors that make people feel exhausted. But chronic fatigue — especially when it comes with other unusual signs like unexplained weight loss — can be a symptom of several serious health problems, including cancer, a thyroid disorder, or anemia (low counts of red blood cells in the body).
Chronic fatigue can also be an early sign of heart attack in women, according to a study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. The study of more than 500 women found that unexplained fatigue or trouble sleeping were frequently experienced as much as a month before the heart attack. These are 28 dangerous things experts link to heart disease.
17. Sharp pain in your sides
Though a sharp pain on the side, commonly referred to as side stitch, can occur while exercising, at other times it might be coming from the kidneys. You may feel it like a dull, one-sided ache in your upper abdomen, side, or back, according to the Mayo Clinic. It may be an infection, which would usually come with fever, or stones, cysts, and even cancer.
18. Swollen legs
Swelling in the feet is often caused by fluid retention, or edema — when water stays in the circulatory system. Most of the time the reason is high sodium intake — and that’s why it’s among the “resolutions” doctors want people to keep. But swollen legs may also indicate a more serious problem such as kidney failure. The kidneys are responsible for overall fluid balance in the body, so when they are not functioning properly, fluid can build up.
Swelling can also be a symptom of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), also a potentially very dangerous condition occurring when blood clots form in a large vein. If the clot bursts, it can travel to the lungs, causing an embolism, which can be fatal.
19. Profuse sweating
When excessive sweating is caused by a medical condition, it’s called secondary hyperhidrosis. These conditions include diabetic hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level), a heart infection, heart attack, leukemia, or a thyroid disorder (which can also be among the causes of memory loss).
Hives, swelling, and other skin reactions, are well known as symptoms of food allergens. Vomiting is a lesser known sign that an allergic reaction has occurred, Elliott said. “The GI tract is lined with allergy cells that can get activated in the setting of an allergic reaction,” she added. “It usually happens quickly (within minutes to an hour) after eating the food.”
Vomiting, especially when throwing up solid food shortly after eating and when it’s accompanied with nausea, may be a sign of stomach cancer.
21. Skin color changes
Skin changes can be indicative of someone’s health. In some cases, they can be a symptom of an internal disease. The most common change, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), may be a sign of liver disease as the liver gets rid of bilirubin, a yellow-orange pigment, found in the red blood cells. If there is a problem with the liver, bilirubin accumulates, causing yellow skin. Pancreatic cancer, which is among the most common in men and women, can block the bile duct, causing jaundice, too.
22. Persistent fever
A fever that comes and goes for several weeks in a row may be a sign of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the American Cancer Society. Cancerous cells produce chemicals that raise the body temperature, causing a fever.
High fever can also indicate sepsis, a potentially lethal complication of an infection. Accompanying symptoms may include chills, a rash, and rapid heart beat.
23. Horizontal ridges on nails
Horizontal ridges on the nails, whether deep or discolored, can indicate vitamin deficiency, psoriasis, or a thyroid problem. Horizontal ridges can also be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Ridges on the nails may also indicate chronic paronychia, an inflammatory disorder of the nail folds. This disorder is also characterized by redness and swelling and is frequently caused by an irritant or an allergen. They can be among these surprisingly dangerous but very common things in your home.
24. Voice sounding different
Laryngitis, an inflammation of the voice box, can cause hoarseness. With laryngitis, normal smooth movements in the voice box are obstructed by swelling, changing the sounds produced by the vibration of the vocal cords.
Hoarse voice may be a sign of laryngeal cancer. If this is the case, a patient may also experience swallowing difficulties, weight loss, and a persistent cough.
25. Frequent heartburn
If it feels like you’re getting heartburn after almost every meal, it may be time to see a doctor. If it occurs more than twice a week and no over-the-counter medications seem to make it go away, the underlying cause may be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a digestive disease in which stomach acid irritates the food pipe lining. GERD can be treated with several medications or surgery, if necessary. Just make sure the medication is not on the list of the most dangerous.
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