11 Small Health Symptoms Women Ignore, But Shouldn't
It's really easy to brush off small health issues — such as headaches, fatigue, and irregular periods — when you have a super busy schedule. Life get it's in the way and sometimes, small symptoms like these don't always seem like a priority. But even though they don't seem like a big deal, there are certain health issues you should not ignore, and get a checkup anyway.
That's not to say you need to run to the doctor every time you feel slightly "off." But you should monitor your body for changes and subtle symptoms, as it may be trying to tell you something.
When it comes to things like headaches, tiredness, and even anxiety and depression, your doctor needs to know about it. "Whether physical or mental, some symptoms should not go unchecked," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. Issues like these might be a sign of a larger problem, and one that needs to be treated right away. But even if the symptom isn't life-threatening, you owe it to yourself to feel better.
Sure, you could soldier on — as many women do. But why not set aside some time to make your health a priority? Here are a few small health symptoms that are easy to ignore, but shouldn't go unchecked — especially since experts say many are a sign of something more.
1. Brittle Hair & Thinning Nails
Your hair and nails can tell you a lot about your health, so it's a good idea to pay attention if your hair turns brittle or your nails start peeling — even though it may not seem like a big deal.
"As a physician of internal medicine I have seen many women ignore thinning hair or brittle/breaking nails until it is severe," Arielle Levitan, MD, tells Bustle. "These are often signs of medical illnesses (thyroid problems, autoimmune conditions) or more typically, vitamin deficiencies that can be severe."
If you notice that your hair is thinning, or your nails break super easily, let your doctor know. They'll be able to figure out the cause, and treat any underlying conditions.
2. Gas & Bloating
Don't be alarmed if you feel bloated during your period, or get gassy after drinking a lot of soda. These things are to be expected, and will likely pass quickly.
Ongoing gas and bloating, however, should be pointed out to your doctor. "Women often ignore or dismiss symptoms of gas, burping, flatulence, and bloating," Dr. Crystal Moore tells Bustle. "These are nonspecific symptoms which can have a variety of causes, most of which pose minimal health threats."
It is possible, however, that these stomach troubles may be a sign of something more serious. "Persistence of these symptoms that is not relieved with over-the-counter remedies can be a sign of ovarian cancer," Dr. Moore says. "Ovarian cancer, although rare, is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women. This is because it presents with minimal symptoms that 'whisper' and consequently is usually not diagnosed until it is already far advanced."
By speaking up, and pointing out these symptoms to your doctor, you may be more likely to catch it early. "If you experience persistent gas and bloating that is unrelieved, please bring it to the attention of your health care provider for further evaluation," Dr. Moore says, even if it doesn't seem like a big deal.
3. Ongoing Fatigue
It's fine to feel tired after a super busy week, or the day after an all-night Netflix binge. But don't ignore ongoing fatigue — the kind that doesn't go away, even if you get enough sleep — since it may be your body's way of telling you something's wrong.
"Many times, extreme fatigue is misattributed to responsibilities, hassles, and obligations. And yes, those could all be contributing factors," Backe says. "But this doesn’t mean it should go unchecked and untreated."
There are so many diseases and disorders with fatigue as a top symptom — from stress and anxiety, to cancer and heart disease — so it'll be important to let your doctor know about it, so you can treat the underlying cause ASAP.
4. Recurring Headaches
Headaches are another symptom that are easy to ignore. Just pop a painkiller, and move on with your day. Right?
That's often all you need to do. But if the headaches keep coming back, or seem to be really intense, you should let your doctor know. "Like fatigue, this is a common symptom of many conditions," Backe says. "It is also one of the quickest to be put down as 'just a headache.' Don’t ignore the warning signs, especially if they happen more often than you’d care to admit."
If you're having migraines, you'll definitely want to get them treated by a doctor, just so you don't have to keep on suffering. But recurring headaches can also be a sign of more dangerous health concerns. It doesn't hurt to tell your doctor if they keep coming back, or if you've been feeling "off" for a while.
5. Missed Or Unpredictable Periods
Whether it's a missed period, heavy bleeding, light bleeding, and so on — we tend to keep it all to ourselves, either because it's embarrassing to talk about, or we assume these period changes aren't a big deal.
"Sometimes you may feel weird about going to the doctor, but if you feel something is not right, you shouldn’t put it off," Backe says. OB/GYNs have heard it all, so you shouldn't feel like you can't ask questions, or spill the beans when it comes to "weird' symptoms.
In doing so, you might be detecting a health issue early on, that may have otherwise gone untreated. Irregular periods can be caused by benign things like stress, according to WebMD. But they can also be a sign of something more concerning, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or hypothyroidism.
6. Burning During Urination
If you're peeing a lot, or have the strong urge to pee between trips to the bathroom, let your doctor know. As Backe says, it may be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI), which shouldn't be ignored.
While it's definitely possible to treat them at home, or with over-the-counter treatments, it's often better to see a doctor if symptoms persist. According to the Mayo Clinic, "When treated promptly and properly, lower urinary tract infections rarely lead to complications. But left untreated, a urinary tract infection can have serious consequences."
For one, when left untreated, the infection can spread up to the kidneys, causing permanent kidney damage. So yeah... don't mess around when it comes to a UTI. Get that thing treated properly by a doctor.
7. Changing Moles
To catch skin cancer early on, when it's most treatable, it's important to pay attention to changes in your skin, such as moles that start to look different.
"If you notice a new mole on your body, a change in shape, color, or size in a mole that has been there for years, or a mole that looks different than all of your other moles, then see your dermatologist, sooner, rather than later," Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Bustle. "Sure, it could just be a freckle or age spot, but changing moles may represent melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer that can spread in your body, if not caught early."
This is actually the leading cause of cancer in women aged 25 to 29, and the second most common cause of cancer in women aged 15 to 29, Dr. Shainhouse says. "Risk factors include UV exposure (sun and tanning beds) and genetic susceptibility (skin color, eye color, hair color, freckles, number and type of moles)," she adds.
Wearing sunscreen, and getting yearly skin exams, can help lower those risks. And, of course, point out any skin changes to your doctor, as soon as you see them.
8. Breast Changes
Here's another friendly reminder to keep an eye on your boobs. "If you do feel a non-tender breast lump that does not go away in a few weeks, or is persistent and unrelated to your menstrual cycle, get it checked," Dr. Shainhouse says. "Monthly self-breast exams are helpful to get to know your breasts and learn what your normal feels like."
And it really is easy to do. "Try examining them in the shower the week after your period, when breasts are less tender," Dr. Shainhouse says. "Soapy hands make it easy to feel for lumps. Be sure to feel under the nipple area and as far out as your armpit, since the breast tissue can grow that far out."
If you feel anything out of the ordinary, or notice that your breasts look different — such as nipple changes, discharge, or puckering of the skin, Dr. Shainhouse says — let your doctor know.
9. Ongoing Anxiety
It's easy to ignore anxiety, or even learn to accept as part of everyday life. Women "become used to brushing off stress, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, and muscle tension," Kelsey Torgerson, MSW, LCSW, an anxiety specialist in St. Louis, tells Bustle.
But the thing is, if you let anxiety go untreated, it has the potential to get worse. Not to mention, even low levels of anxiety can impact your life in a way that's pretty stressful. So the sooner you can get help, the better.
10. Heel Pain
While not dangerous in terms of your physical health and safety, do yourself a favor and don't ignore heel pain.
"This is known as plantar fascitis," Barbara Bergin, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, tells Bustle. "It is the result of a shortened plantar fascia or a shortened Achilles tendon. It usually starts one morning when you get out of bed, and you feel a shearing sensation on the bottom of your foot. It gets better as you move around, so you ignore it. The next day the same thing happens, and most women continue to ignore it, sometimes for months!"
The thing is, once you let the pain continue that long, it's unlikely to go away for several months, Dr. Bergin says. So "deal with it quickly."
11. Feelings Of Sadness & Depression
Life can get in the way, and before you know it, you realize you've been feeling sad or depressed for months — without doing anything about it. But just like every other health concern, you need to make your mental health a priority, and seek treatment ASAP.
"Depressive illnesses are serious medical illnesses that affect more than 19 million American adults each year," Martina Graves, president and CEO of Mental Health America of WI, tells Bustle. "Depression is a treatable medical illness that can occur in any woman, at any time, and for various reasons regardless of age, race, or income. Approximately 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year. About one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime."
But the good news is, depression is very treatable. As Graves says, most people find relief when treated with "medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both."
So don't put your health at the bottom of your to-do list. Not only are some of these symptoms a sign of a disease that needs to be treated quickly — such as ovarian cancer — but many simply affect your quality of life, and should be improved ASAP.