Symptoms Women Shouldn't Ignore

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on September 7, 2010
Medically Reviewed by Andrea Baird, MD

10 Symptoms Women Should Worry About

Some symptoms are easy to identify as potentially serious health problems. Chest pain, high fever, and bleeding are all clear signs that something is wrong. Our bodies can also tell us of impending trouble in subtle ways. Many women may not understand these signs or realize that they require medical attention. This guide will help you understand 10 symptoms that demand your attention.

Swollen or Discolored Breast

There are times when breast swelling is normal. Many women’s breasts swell before their periods. They also swell during pregnancy. However, if you have unusual or new swelling, talk to your doctor. Rapid swelling or discoloration (purple or red spots) may be signs of inflammatory breast cancer.

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare type of advanced breast cancer that develops quickly. Breast infections can also have very similar symptoms. It is important to see your doctor if you see skin or other changes in your breast.

Abdominal Bloating

Abdominal bloating is a common menstrual symptom. Some food sensitivities can also make you feel bloated for a day or two. However, abdominal bloating that lasts more than a week can be an early sign of ovarian cancer. Other ovarian cancer symptoms include:

  • feeling full quickly after eating
  • difficulty eating
  • needing to urinate frequently
  • having a persistent lack of energy

These symptoms are vague and easy to overlook. Therefore, many cases of ovarian cancer are not identified until later stages. Talk your gynecologist if you have unusual or persistent bloating.

Bloody or Black Stools

Stool color can change from day to day. It depends on the foods you eat and the medicines you take. For example, iron supplements and diarrhea medicines may turn your stool black or tarry.

Black stool or bloody stool is rarely OK. Black stool suggests you have a bleed in your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Maroon-colored or bloody stool suggests a bleed lower in the GI tract. These are signs you should see your doctor to check for bleeding. Bleeding may be caused by:

Unusual Shortness of Breath

Walking up flights of stairs or a steep hill leaves many people winded. However, being short of breath after only light activity could be an early sign of a serious lung or heart problem. It is important to discuss any new shortness of breath with a doctor. Shortness of breath is also called dyspnea.

One potential cause of dyspnea is coronary ischemia. Coronary ischemia is a lack of blood flow in the heart muscle. It is caused by  a partial or complete arterial blockage. A complete arterial blockage may also cause a heart attack.

Get to an emergency room as soon as you can if you have dyspnea and begin to experience other symptoms, such as:

Constant Tiredness

Modern life lends itself to reduced sleep and increased tiredness. A constant feeling of tiredness could be a sign of a medical problem. Problems that can cause fatigue include:

  • depression
  • liver failure
  • anemia
  • cancer
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • kidney failure
  • cardiovascular disease
  • thyroid disease
  • sleep apnea
  • diabetes

Hypothyroidism is often an unrecognized source of fatigue in women. It is a condition in which your thyroid becomes underactive. Other symptoms include:

  • depression
  • constipation
  • increased sensitivity to cold
  • muscle weakness
  • pale, dry skin

New chronic fatigue symptoms should be assessed by a doctor. You may be able to get help.

Unexplained 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. Talk to your doctor if your weight drops for no reason. Possible causes of unexplained weight loss include:

  • cancer
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Celiac disease
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • thyroid disease

Chest or Facial Hair

Facial hair growth isn’t just a cosmetic concern. Growth of hair on the chest or face is usually caused by elevated levels of androgens (male hormones). This may be a symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. Other symptoms associated with PCOS include:

  • adult acne
  • obesity
  • irregular periods
  • high blood pressure

Chronic Stomach Problems

Occasional stomach problems shouldn’t be a major cause of concern. However chronic stomach problems could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms of IBS include:

IBS is more common in women than men. It’s easy to ignore or dismiss the symptoms as an “upset stomach” or a bad meal. You should see a doctor if these symptoms recur regularly. IBS is treatable with changes in diet, lifestyle, and stress management. Medication may also help with symptoms.

Stomach symptoms can sometimes be a sign of other serious health problems. Talk to your doctor if you have recurrent problems with your digestive system.

Vaginal Bleeding after Menopause

If you have vaginal bleeding after menopause, see your doctor as soon as possible. Vaginal bleeding after menopause is never normal. It may be harmless, but it could also be a sign of a serious health problem including:

  • uterine fibroids
  • endometritis (inflammation of the uterine lining often cause by an infection)
  • cancer

Symptoms of a Transient Ischemic Attack

All adults should know the symptoms of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIAs are sometimes referred to as “mini-strokes.” Unlike a stroke, a TIA does not cause permanent injury to the brain. However, more than one-third of people who have had a TIA will have a stroke later in life. Symptoms of a TIA or stroke include sudden:

  • weakness, often only on one side
  • muscle slackness, often only one side
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • lost vision, in one or both eyes
  • trouble speaking

If you have any of these symptoms, get help immediately. Fast help can reduce the risk of long-term side effects.

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