11 Subtle Changes OB/GYNs Say You Should Never Ignore
It's not unusual to ignore a minor symptom in our body, as usually there's no cause for concern when one little aspect of your health seems off. However, sometimes there are some subtle health changes you shouldn't ignore, especially when it's related to your sexual health. Most of the time, these little symptoms can be harmless, but on the off-chance they're not, you'll want to make sure you have a doctor checking them out so you can get down to the problem and better protect your health.
"You know your body and its changes better than anyone, so in short, you have to be your own best advocate," Camilo A. Gonima, M.D., an OB/GYN with the Institute for Women’s Health, tells Bustle. "Subtle changes can add up to big problems in the long run if left undiagnosed and untreated. If there’s something that’s 'off' — even a subtle change you’ve noticed — you should make an appointment to discuss it."
Plenty of different changes occur in our bodies daily, so it's important to know which are common and which require attention. Here are 11 subtle changes in women's bodies OB/GYNs say you should never ignore. After all, better safe than sorry!
1. Irregular Periods
Sometimes, our period comes late, and it's no big deal, but if your period is frequently irregular, don't leave it untreated. "Irregular menstrual cycles can be caused by pregnancy, peri-menopause [when the body is transitioning into menopause], uterine polyps, cervical or uterine cancer, or hormonal imbalances such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age," Dr. Ilana Ressler tells Bustle. Although irregular periods don't always indicate something as extreme as cancer, it's important to keep on top of your heath, and consult with your doctor if you notice this change.
2. Heavy Periods
Your period might be heavier from one month to another, but having to change your pad or tampon every hour during your cycle is something you should address with your doctor. "It may be as simple as needing hormones to regulate your cycle, or it could be a uterine fibroid or polyp in the uterus that needs to be removed surgically," Jessica Vaught, MD, gynecologist and Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, tells Bustle. "Bleeding that heavily can put you at risk for anemia and possibly even needing a blood transfusion."
Heavy bleeding is also attributed to endometriosis, a disorder in which the tissue lining your uterus grows outside of your uterus. If you notice any of these symptoms, and they are accompanied by painful menstrual cramps, make an appointment with your OB/GYN to see how to treat the underlying cause.
3. Pain During Sex
Although slight, occasional discomfort may happen during sex, if sex is consistently painful, you'll want to see your doctor — this could indicate another health issue. "Pain or bleeding with intercourse can be caused by a pelvic infection, vaginal dryness, a skin infection or disorder, cervical or endometrial cancer, or endometriosis," says Ressler. Of course, do not automatically assume the worst — an evaluation by your OB/GYN can get to the bottom of the issue, and help make sex more comfortable for you.
4. Breast Discharge
Hormones can cause temporary changes in our breasts, but if you're experiencing discharge, get it checked out. "Breast discharge can be a sign of a hormonal disorder, hyperprolactinemia, which may be caused by a small benign pituitary brain mass," says Ressler. Hyperprolactinemia usually occurs when there are high levels of prolactin, the hormone that stimulates breast milk, in the blood. While the tumors that may cause the overproduction of this hormone aren't typically cancerous, these symptoms are definitely something to definitely consult with your doctor about.
5. Itchy Breasts
Itchy breasts and areolae can occur for a number of reasons, from dry skin to breastfeeding and hormonal changes due to pregnancy. "However, itchy breasts may also be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer," Gonima says. "While this breast cancer symptom is atypical, it can be serious, especially if you experience it in one breast only." Because having itchy breasts is common, do not panic at the first need to scratch — consult your doctor if you also notice redness, swelling, aching, or burning in your breasts, as well as swollen lymph nodes under your arm or above your collarbone.
6. Stronger Fingernails
Most people don't generally get too concerned when their fingernails start growing long and strong, but one of the earlier signs of pregnancy is rapid nail growth. "Although not all women will experience this symptom, increased hormone production, circulation and nutrients can lead to manicure-ready hands," says Gonima. So, if you've been trying to conceive, take note if you notice this change.
7. Leg Pains
You should never ignore leg pain, especially if you are taking birth control. "One of the most dangerous side effects of hormonal birth control is the increased risk for blood clots, especially deep vein thrombosis (DVT)," says Gonima. "Although somewhat rare, women older than 35 and smokers are particularly susceptible to developing DVT and blood clots while taking hormonal birth control. If you’ve noticed a deep pain in your calf, temperature differences in your legs or shortness of breath, talk to your OB/GYN immediately."
8. Easily Broken Bones
If you stub your toe and end up with a fracture or bump your hand off a counter and fracture a finger, you may be experiencing bone loss. "Women are susceptible to osteoporosis, a condition that occurs when the body makes too little bone," says Gonima. "Menopausal women in particular should tell their physicians about injuries that occur more easily and frequently than usual." A simple in-office bone density test can often diagnose the condition and lead to effective treatment.
If you find that you're always bloated no matter what you eat, something else might be at play. "[I]f you are feeling a mass or a solid area in your lower abdomen, you need to call your doctor," says Vaught. "This can be a variety of things: from an undiagnosed or unrealized pregnancy, to a uterus with fibroids that is making it enlarged, to an ovarian cyst or a mass on the ovary." A quick trip to your OB/GYN can help get to the root of the problem, as well as how to fix it.
10. Unusual Discharge
It's actually quite common to have some type of discharge most days, but there are some red flags to look out for if things seem a bit off. "It is not normal for your discharge to itch, smell, or burn on a regular basis," Dr. Octavia Cannon tells Bustle. "Go see your gynecologist. You may have an infection or a bladder problem."
11. Hot Flashes
"Although other medical conditions can cause them, hot flashes most commonly are due to menopause, which can also be a sign of declining fertility," Dr. Shahin Ghadir tells Bustle. "They can also be a side effect to prescription drugs, a sign of a food intolerance, a thyroid issues or anxiety." If you notice that hot flashes are becoming a problem for you, consulting your doctor can help you find out what may be causing them.
Although many of these symptoms should not be cause to freak out, checking in with your doctor when something seems amiss is the best way to keep on top of your health.