11 Health Concerns Women Typically Ignore, But Shouldn’t
When it comes to things your health is telling you, there are some health symptoms to never ignore. And sometimes, when it seems like it's not a big deal, it's easy to. Maybe you're busy, and don't have the time to pause and see a doctor. Or maybe you're the type to press on with your day when you're not feeling great. This is fairly typical — especially when so many health symptoms can be attributed to the likes of PMS, such as fatigue and bloating. But when it comes to certain health concerns, it's important to pay attention to anything that seems odd, and chat with a doctor ASAP.
"Being your own health advocate means getting regular check-ups, taking care of your mental, physical, and emotional well-being outside of doctors visits, and taking care to notice when new health concerns emerge," board-certified naturopathic physician Dr. Maria Geyman tells Bustle.
Even if something seems trivial, it's important to keep following up. "Addressing a health issue preventatively or when it is emerging is often far less invasive than treating it once it has escalated," says Geyman. "Regular follow ups with medical care ensures that a treatment plan is running an appropriate course and that the health condition is resolving." So if you are experiencing one of these 11 symptoms, it may be a good idea to see your doctor.
1. Shortness Of Breath
Little heart health symptoms — like shortness of breath — can be easy to ignore. But they really should spur you to see a doctor, especially if you also have intermittent fatigue. "These symptoms can easily be dismissed as being flu-like symptoms, but if they are persistent and not getting better it is important to investigate," Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, cardiologist and national spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign, tells Bustle.
"These could be the subtle symptoms that could be associated with heart disease," she says. "Also, headaches and dizziness could be dismissed, but sometimes this could be a sign of a stroke. For both heart disease and stroke, getting timely help is essential to receive potentially lifesaving treatment." Of course, these symptoms don't always mean these health issues are imminent, but if you are feeling them persistently, checking in with your doctor is a good way to keep tabs on your health.
2. Bowel Changes
It's totally normal to have bowel changes if you alter your diet, or eat something out of the ordinary. So don't jump to conclusions, or worry yourself needlessly, if your stools are suddenly different one morning. Do, however, pay attention if you also have blood in your stool, or are losing weight unintentionally, as it may be a sign of colon cancer.
"Colon cancer is currently the third leading cause of cancer-related death for women, and it is unfortunately a disease that often goes undetected in the earliest, most treatable stages," board-certified gastroenterologist Will Bulsiewicz, MD MSCI tells Bustle. "A recent study found that colon cancer rates are on the rise in those younger than 55, most of whom are not old enough to have colon cancer screening yet." Bowel changes won't always indicate something as serious as colon cancer but experts say to be mindful of these changes, and speak with your doctor when necessary.
3. Ongoing Fatigue
If you're not sleeping at night, it might feel like it's NBD. And yet, if this habit goes on, experts say it may take a toll on your health. "Women are particularly vulnerable to this — we’re busy, wear so many 'hats' at work and at home, and with fluctuations of hormones, we often miss good sleep," Judette Louis, MD, MPH, co-author of the Society for Women’s Health Research guide Women & Sleep, tells Bustle. "Poor sleep can lead to serious health concerns like ... fertility and pregnancy problems, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, mood disorders, and poor memory and concentration."
Usually, tiredness is due to poor sleep hygiene and not getting enough rest. But sometimes experts say ongoing fatigue can also be a sign of a greater health risk, like sleep apnea. "While most people think of sleep apnea happening in older adults, it’s not uncommon for it occur in women during their childbearing years and through pregnancy," says Louis. If you can't seem to catch up on your rest, speak with your doctor or a sleep expert to see if this might be what's keeping you up at night.
4. Thinning Or Brittle Hair
It's typical to lose about 100 hairs throughout the day, so a few more in your hair brush might not set off your warning bells. But if your notice patchiness, it may be worth looking into. "Hair that changes consistency can be a sign of many significant illnesses such as thyroid, autoimmune conditions or most commonly, key vitamin deficiencies," Arielle Levitan, MD tells Bustle. "Be aware of your body, especially when things change and seek medical attention."
A doctor can help you get to the bottom of what's going on, and treat any underlying health concerns. You might simply need to up your vitamin intake, and add a few key nutrients to your daily routine. Regardless, do not panic — your doctor can help find a solution that is best for you.
5. Bleeding Gums
If you occasionally see specks of blood on your gums when you floss, it might just be that you pushed too hard and cut your skin. But if you always notice blood, it may be time for a trip to the doctor. "Experiencing a little blood around the gum line after brushing or flossing is a definite health sign to not ignore," Dr. Leslie Renee Townsend, DDS, of Jefferson Dental Clinics, tells Bustle. "An estimated nearly half the adult population in the U.S. has some degree of gum disease, which most notably causes bleeding gums, bad breath, puffy or swollen, tender, irritated and red-colored gums. At its most severe stages, gum disease can cause gum recession (when the gum tissue pulls back from the teeth), loss of jaw bone and tissue, and can cause tooth loss."
Bleeding gums can also point to something going on in the rest of your body. "Bleeding gums is commonly a symptom of uncontrolled diabetes, certain vitamin deficiencies, leukemia, and other chronic illnesses," says Townsend. "Some medications also have side effects that can cause bleeding gums." While bleeding gums do not not always mean some of these greater health concerns, checking in with your dentist if you notice blood frequently is the quickest way to address the problem.
6. Pain During Sex
Some discomfort may occur occasionally during sex, especially if you forgot to use lube. But excruciating pain, however, is something to pay attention to.
"One of the most common causes of pain during intercourse is a condition called 'pelvic congestion syndrome,'" Dr. David Greuner, of NYC Surgical Associates, tells Bustle. Pelvic congestion syndrome is a condition in which varicose veins develop around the ovaries, often becoming backed up with blood, which can result in painful sex. "Though many women experience pain during intercourse, most are unaware of this condition. Pelvic congestion syndrome can cause severe pain, particularly in women who have had children, predominantly on the woman's left side and most commonly with deeper vaginal penetration." If sex is frequently painful for you, talk to your doctor about what can be causing this pain, and how to make sex more comfortable.
7. Bloating And Pressure In Your Abdomen
Bloating is an issue you probably deal with all the time, usually as a result of something you ate, or as a side effect of PMS. But, in some cases, bloating can be a symptom of something else. If you also have persistent pain or pressure in your pelvic area, a change in bathroom habits — such as having to pee a lot — and a feeling of fullness that sets in soon after eating, take note.
In some cases, experts say this could be a sign of ovarian cancer. "All of the [symptoms listed] above are related to either accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, ... or due to pressure from an ovarian mass or peritoneal irritation from cancerous implants throughout the abdomen or pelvis," Steve Vasilev, MD, gynecologic oncologist and medical director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA, tells Bustle. "The problem is that most of these are only appreciated when the cancer has already spread."
There are ways to watch out for yourself, though. "The best advice rests with knowing your body and appreciating subtle changes," he says. "If any of the above occur and are persistent, then a full evaluation is a very good idea."
8. Vaginal Itching
Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, can be easy to ignore or brush off, especially if you're used to having itchy issues near your vagina or labia, like urinary tract infections (UTIs). BV has similar symptoms including vaginal itching, burning during urination, discharge, and a "fishy" smell.
You might be tempted to wait for it to pass, experts say not to. According to experts from Keep Her Awesome, a women's health educational program, if left untreated, BV can increase your risk of transmission of STIs, including chlamydia, trichomoniasis, herpes, and HIV. It can also increase your risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, which can affect your chances of getting pregnant.
You might think over-the-counter remedies work to cure BV, but many do not effectively treat gynecological infections. Contacting your doctor at the first sign of this issue may be the best way to treat it.
9. Acid Reflux
Acid reflux can simply be a sign you ate too much spicy food for dinner. Or, it could be a symptom of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). And there are a variety of reasons why that may be the case. "Hormonal shifts in women may provoke heartburn episodes," Atif Iqbal, MD, medical director of the Digestive Care Center at Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Center, tells Bustle. "Hormones can cause relaxation of the valve at the lower end of the esophagus that usually keeps digestive acids in the stomach, allowing acid reflux to occur. Fluctuations in estrogen can play a role, but the hormone progesterone is also known to trigger heartburn."
If you have ongoing heartburn, it may be a good idea to visit your doctor to help alleviate this discomfort.
10. Frequent Urination
Frequent urination can be a sign of something simple, like a urinary tract infection, which can be treated by antibiotics. If it's ongoing, though, it may be time to speak with your doctor — especially if you have blood in your urine, a burning sensation while you pee, or pain above your bladder.
Experts sometimes attribute these symptoms to bladder cancer. "Bladder cancer is more likely to affect men than women. Due to this fact, it is sometimes overlooked in female examinations and many a female bladder cancer patient has reported being diagnosed with the disease while being evaluated for something else entirely," S. Adam Ramin, MD, a urologic surgeon and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, tells Bustle. "This is a good thing for cancers that are in their early stages, but being aware of the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer before it progresses to its later stages is very important." While there is a chance you may not have bladder cancer, it is always a good idea to speak with your doctor if health symptoms persist.
11. Dry Skin
If you're always taking super hot showers, or going outside a lot during the cold months, you will have dry skin. And that's totally not unusual. But if your dry skin is persistent, and if it's accompanied by other symptoms, experts say it might be an early sign of diabetes.
"Skin can often serve as an indicator of overall health, and this is true especially for conditions like diabetes," top dermatologist and RealSelf contributor Dr. Joel Schlessinger, tell Bustle. These other symptoms include scaly patches of skin on your eye lids, skin tags, ulcers on your feet, and skin rashes. If you notice these symptoms, as well as your dry skin, it may be best to speak with your doctor.
While it's important not to jump to conclusions, keeping an eye on your health and speaking with a doctor when something feels off is always a good idea.