Plenty of women with five-alarm health symptoms put off calling the doctor in the hope that whatever is bothering them will just go away. Big mistake! Marie Savard, M.D., Medical Contributor to Good Morning America and the author most recently of Ask Dr. Marie, urges you to trust your “doctor within” by paying attention when your body is telling you that something is really wrong. Here are Dr. Marie’s top ten warning signals that you need to get medical attention, and fast.
The Worst Headache Ever
You’ve had headaches before, maybe even migraines, but this time your temples are throbbing with demonic intensity. The pain starts suddenly and is on a Richter Scale of 10. The usual over-the-counter meds are no match for the monster. An ice pack isn’t helping much, either. Is this something dangerous? Hello? Is water wet? One possibility is that you may have an acute viral or bacterial infection of the brain, either meningitis or encephalitis. The sooner you’re treated, the better the likelihood of a full recovery. Another possible cause is a leaking or ruptured brain aneurysm. You may have been living for quite a while with an undetected aneurysm, a thinned portion of an artery that balloons with blood. Some people have aneurysms that never burst, but your headache may be a signal that you weren’t that lucky. Call 911.
Cough That Won’t Go Away
Smoking, postnasal drip, asthma, and heartburn can all create a vicious cycle in which you keep coughing because your throat is irritated by – you guessed it – coughing. The longer you wait to get treatment, the worse off you’ll be. However, a persistent cough could also be a sign of something more serious including lung cancer, lymphoma, heart failure, or fluid in the chest. A chest X-ray can help rule out or detect these problems.
Trouble Catching Your Breath
We’re not talking here about the common kind of shortness of breath you may experience when you feel anxious or scared. That’s just your “fight or flee” mode going into action. Also, if you have a history of asthma, then you already know what a bad attack feels like and you know what to do. But if at a perfectly calm, ordinary moment you find yourself fighting to suck in air, you could have a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot in the lung. “Air hunger” can also be a sign of angina, a blockage of your arteries that can lead to heart failure. This is particularly true if the episode of shortness of breath happens while you’re lying down or exercising. Get yourself to the ER without delay!
Chest Pains That Come And Go
The causes could be nothing more than heartburn, an unexplained “stitch,” or mild inflammation of the lining of the lung or rib cartilage. However, if the pain was bolt out of the blue and it’s recurring every five to fifteen minutes with tightness that doesn’t get worse when you breathe deeply but does get worse with exercise, the cause may be angina. And if you’re also experiencing shortness of breath, this could signal a pulmonary embolism, a collapsed lung, a dissecting aorta, or an aortic aneurysm. You know the drill by now. “Watchful waiting” is not an option. True, you could simply be experiencing the aftereffects of that spicy Thai dinner, but why take chances?
A Really Bad Tummy Ache
Especially if you also have nausea and are vomiting, the cause could be appendicitis, a tumor, a ruptured organ, or a ruptured ovarian cyst. Another possibility is diverticulitis, an inflammation in the lining of the colon. The doctor will also rule out a gallbladder attack or a pancreas attack. Best-case scenarios could be a spastic colon, a viral infection, lactose intolerance, or gas from beans or from sugar substitutes. (Dr. Marie confesses that she once thought she had acute appendicitis after she ate a whole bag of sugar-free gummies!) Again, though, better safe than sorry so call the doc!
Dark Blood In The Toilet
Bright red blood on toilet paper or in the bowel doesn’t require immediate attention. The causes may be hemorrhoids or a tear in rectal tissue from straining. However if the blood is black or maroon and tarlike, this is a medical emergency. While the iron in vitamin supplements and in certain vegetables can color the stool black, as can Pepto-Bismol, we’re talking here about bloody discharge and not just the stool itself. You may have a bleeding ulcer, bleeding diverticulitis, other colon problem, or colon cancer. Report your symptom to your doctor. He or she may want to see you the same day or tell you to go to the ER.
Bleeding Down There After Menopause
If you’re taking certain types of cyclic hormone replacement therapy, you already know that you have a light period each month. That’s nothing to worry about. And if you had sex without a little help from a lubricant, you are probably just seeing some spotting from irritation of your vagina since it’s no doubt drier now than it was in your salad days. Mention is at your next routine office visit, but there’s no need to panic. On the other hand, if what you’re experiencing qualifies as a genuine flow of blood or even spotting, you may have uterine cancer. Make an appointment with your ob/gyn as soon as possible. As with any form of cancer, detection and treatment during the early stages offers the best hope of a good outcome.
Numbness On One Side Of Your Body
If you have separate episodes lasting less than twenty-four hours, this could be the warning sign of an impending stroke. If weakness or numbness is persistent, a stroke may have already occurred. Some people have a series mini-strokes called transient ischemic attacks or TIAs. Although the symptoms typically resolve after a very short time, TIAs can cause lasting damage and are often precursors of a major stroke. Don’t ignore that one-sided numbness just because it goes away. A check-up is definitely in order!
A Mole That Has Changed
So-called “age spots,” or senile keratosis, are no cause for concern. They appear most often on your forearms especially if you’ve been getting too much sun. Moles are a different story. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors but what matters is whether or not they begin to change. If they do, that could signal the start of melanoma, or skin cancer. This is why, during your annual physical, your doctor should examine your skin all over your body. You may not even have noticed a mole somewhere on your back. Also note, any mole that is itchy, oozing, crusty, or painful warrants a visit to the doctor.
A Sudden Attack Of Severe Sweating
If you break a copious sweat for no apparent reason, especially if you also have an odd feeling of doom, you could have a pulmonary embolism or a ruptured aneurysm. A heart attack is another possible cause. Don’t write this episode off as just the mother of all hot flashes and don’t take a wait-and-see approach. It’s human nature to tell yourself that nothing terrible is happening to you, but you’re not doing yourself a favor by delaying treatment.