Be mindful of your symptoms

It may seem easy to dismiss unusual symptoms or attribute them to increasing age. However, some things shouldn’t be ignored. When a new symptom might be a sign of a more serious health problem, it’s important to get it checked out.

If you experience a sudden or unusual symptom, make an appointment to see your doctor. Uncovering a new health condition early may help you avoid long-term complications or other issues.

Read on to learn more about specific symptoms that should be checked out by a healthcare professional.

In some cases, shortness of breath can be an early sign of a partial or complete blockage of an artery that carries blood to your heart, or coronary ischemia. Both a complete and partial arterial blockage can cause a heart attack.

Don’t dismiss this symptom simply because you don’t feel chest pain. The sensation of chest pain is only one of several possible symptoms of heart attack. Symptoms can vary from one person to another.

Make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience chronic or unusual shortness of breath. Seek emergency care if you develop any additional symptoms, such as:

  • pressure in your chest
  • tightness in your chest
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness

The symptoms of a stroke can be subtle, but you shouldn’t ignore them. Possible symptoms include sudden trouble with walking or a loss of balance and coordination. Additional symptoms include:

  • feelings of extreme dizziness
  • speech difficulties
  • the slurring of words
  • changes in vision
  • weakness or numbness in your face, arms, or legs

For any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek emergency care right away. When a person is having a stroke, getting medical attention quickly can help limit or prevent complications.

Vaginal bleeding after menopause is unusual. In some cases, it isn’t a sign of anything serious. For example, sex can be a cause of non-serious bleeding.

However, if bleeding occurs without any apparent cause or occurs repeatedly, it’s important to see a healthcare provider. Postmenopausal bleeding can be a symptom of some gynecological cancers. That’s why it’s important to get it checked out.

Erectile dysfunction (ED), also called impotence, becomes more common with increasing age. It affects an estimated 30 million men in the United States.

Besides affecting sexual satisfaction, ED can be associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other conditions. ED often has a physical cause, but it can also be a response to increased stress or depression. In most cases, treatment can make a difference.

Constipation can lead to excessive pushing and straining during a bowel movement. This strain increases your chances of developing hemorrhoids.

Occasional constipation is normal and can be more common after age 50. However, constipation may signal something is blocking stool from properly exiting. This could be a tumor, a polyp, or some other obstruction.

Ongoing constipation can even lead to a hard stool that packs the intestine and rectum so tightly that normal pushing isn’t enough to expel the stool. This is called fecal impaction.

Treatment can help ease constipation and prevent the condition from getting worse.

Stool color can change daily based on the food you eat and any medications you take. For example, iron supplements and antidiarrheal medications, such as Pepto-Bismol, may turn your stool black or tarry.

Anything in the brown or green spectrum is generally normal. But black or bloody stool may be a sign of something more serious.

Black stool suggests bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Maroon-colored or bloody stool suggests bleeding lower in the GI tract.

See your doctor if you experience bloody or tarry stool. They can check for the presence of ulcers, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, and other GI conditions.

If you find a lump in your breast, or notice any major changes in your breast tissue, it’s important to see your doctor. Some breast lumps are benign, but a hard breast lump may be a sign of cancer.

Other common symptoms of breast cancer can include swelling, tenderness, or breast discoloration. Additional symptoms include nipple discharge and skin changes on the breast.

Breast cancer is treatable and early detection makes a difference. Breast cancer is less common in men, but men should nonetheless be mindful of possible cancer symptoms.

The majority of skin cancers develop on areas of the skin that regularly get sun exposure, such as the:

  • scalp
  • face
  • arms
  • hand
  • neck
  • chest
  • legs

Skin cancer can also develop in areas that seldom get sun exposure, such as under toenails or in the genital area. The three most common types of skin cancer are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of skin pigmentation.

The risk of skin cancer increases with age, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Never ignore skin lesions or moles. Skin lesions that cause pain, ooze, or don’t heal may be cancerous. Other potential symptoms of skin cancer include:

  • a flat, flesh-colored lesion
  • a brown, scar-like lesion
  • a pearly or waxy bump
  • a flat lesion with a crusted surface
  • a red nodule
  • a large brownish spot with dark specks
  • small lesions with irregular borders and parts that look red, white, or bluish
  • dark lesions on the palms, fingertips, toes, or the mucous membranes, which include the mouth, nose, vagina, or anus

Older adults and their family members tend to focus on physical ailments, not emotional ones. Seniors are at greater risk for depression because they may face more feelings of loss and loneliness.

The symptoms of depression include:

  • sadness
  • anxiety
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • unusual fatigue
  • a decreased interest in formerly enjoyable activities
  • changes in appetite
  • a loss of sleep
  • sleeping excessively

Seek help from your doctor or a mental health professional if you or a family member experience any of these symptoms. Depression symptoms and severity can worsen without proper treatment.

While a gradual change in memory is a normal part of aging, sudden changes in memory or the abrupt onset of confusion or delirium could indicate a more serious issue. Abrupt changes could occur due to:

  • a urinary tract infection
  • a reaction to medication
  • thyroid problems
  • dehydration
  • brain tumors
  • anoxia
  • other infections

All of these conditions are generally treatable. However, some of these changes may also be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or other progressive dementias. Be sure to see your doctor right away if you experience these symptoms.

If you experience a new or unexpected symptom, take the time to see your doctor. It could be a sign of a more serious condition. Early treatment can make a big difference to the outcome and avoiding complications.

You may find it useful to list any new or ongoing symptoms before a doctor’s visit. This can help you remember to ask all of the questions you might have. Bring up any medications you’re taking and any side effects you’re experiencing. This information helps your doctor to provide you with the care you need.