It's common knowledge that bleeding, chest pain, and high fever warrant emergency medical care. But what about unusual symptoms such as needing to urinate more or having to strain to use the bathroom? Are they serious? Here are nine symptoms that demand your attention and what they could mean for your health.
Shortness of Breath
Chest pain is not the only telltale sign of a heart attack. Everyone's symptoms are different and unique. For example, having a hard time catching your breath after an easy walk could be an early sign of coronary ischemia, a partial or complete blockage of an artery that carries blood to the heart. (A complete arterial blockage can cause a heart attack.) Make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience any chest pain or new shortness of breath. If additional symptoms such as pressure or tightness in your chest, extreme shortness of breath, or dizziness develops, seek emergency care.
Unintended Weight Loss
Unless you're actively trying to slim down, weight loss on its own is concerning. One of the first signs of many problems, including cancer, is unexplained weight loss. It's important to see your doctor and let him or her know you're losing weight unintentionally.
Read about other causes of unintentional weight loss.
Bloody or Black Stools
Stool color can change day to day based on the foods you're eating and the medicines you're taking. (Iron supplements and diarrheal medicines such as Pepto-Bismol may turn your stool black or tarry, for example.) Anything in the brown or green spectrum is normal, but black or bloody stool or lightly colored stool is rarely okay. Black stool may suggest you have a bleed in your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Maroon-colored or bloody stool may suggest a bleed in the lower in the GI tract. See your doctor to check for bleeding, hemorrhoids, or ulcers. Lightly colored stools may be a sign that there is a problem in the pancreas or bile ducts that drain the liver. If you notice this, see your doctor immediately for help.
Learn about other causes of bloody stools.
Frequent urination can be a sign of diabetes or prostate enlargement. People with diabetes pee frequently because there is excess sugar in their blood. Potential symptoms of prostate problems include decreased flow when urinating, pelvic-area discomfort, and blood in your urine or semen. Talk with your doctor if you're experiencing any of these symptoms.
Read about other causes of frequent urination.
This symptom can be troubling for two reasons. First, constipation can lead to excessive pushing and straining when you're trying to have a bowel movement, and this increases your chance of developing hemorrhoids that can cause bleeding around the rectum. Second, constipation may actually signal something is blocking stool from exiting properly. Although occasional constipation is normal and can be more common after age 50, it could also indicate a tumor, a polyp, or some other obstruction.
Learn about other causes of constipation.
Other than the obvious concerns for impotence and sexual performance, erectile dysfunction (ED) can be a sign of cardiovascular disease. ED may also be caused by increased stress or depression, which can be resolved with therapy or medicine. Men sometimes have a hard time talking to their doctors about this kind of problem, but in most cases, there is a solution. Do not be shy to mention erectile dysfunction to your physician. It is a condition that doctors treat often, so there is no need to hide it.
Read about causes of erectile dysfunction.
We all have an occasional case of heartburn after a greasy burger or a big pile of spaghetti, but if you have heartburn and indigestion after every meal, it might be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In people who have GERD (commonly known as acid reflux), stomach acid flows backward, up the esophagus. If left untreated, the stomach acid can erode the tissues of the esophagus and cause irritation or ulcers. In a small subset of patients, chronic GERD can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
Symptoms of GERD may also mimic rarer, though treatable, problems of the esophagus including sphincter dysfunction. Occasionally, a person may think that he has heartburn, but he may actually be experiencing heart problems. See your doctor if you have a long-standing complaint of "heartburn."
Chronic, loud snoring may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea—a condition in which the muscles in your throat relax and temporarily block your airway while you're sleeping. This can cause breathing problems and disrupt sleep patterns, leaving you feeling sleepy or fatigued, even after getting adequate hours of sleep for several nights. If left untreated, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can lead to pulmonary hypertension, a serious lung disease that can lead to heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms.
Learn about causes of snoring.
Most men think breast cancer is a women's disease, but that's not the case. In fact, each year more than 1,000 men—mostly older men—are diagnosed with breast cancer. If you feel a lump or thickening of tissue or if your nipple darkens, turns red, or begins to have discharge, see your doctor.