We all experience occasional annoying but harmless aches and pains or see bizarre bumps or rashes that disappear after a day or two. Usually, these aren’t anything to worry about, but a few telltale signs can be the sign of a serious or even deadly condition.
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If you notice any of the following signs, call your doctor right away. It’s better to have an unnecessary appointment to prove that it was nothing than to find out the hard way that it was a major warning sign.
1. Sudden Arm, Neck, Back, Or Jaw Pain
When we think of the pain from a heart attack, we usually think of it targeting the chest, not the arm, neck, or jaw, but that isn’t what everyone experiences. The pain radiating from your heart can travel to other areas in your upper body, so instead of feeling that telltale chest pain, you feel pain in your jaw. This is particularly common in women, according to the American Heart Association.
Sometimes, the pain can strike with intensity out of nowhere; otherwise, it comes and goes, gradually becoming more and more intense. If you have any sudden pain in your upper body that you can’t explain, particularly if it’s accompanied by nausea or shortness of breath, call your doctor right away.
2. Yellow Or Orange Bumps
If you notice yellow or orange raised bumps on your skin, it could be a sign of dangerously high cholesterol. Xanthomas are fatty deposits that build up under the skin when blood cholesterol and fat levels get too high. They can be tiny, or they can be as much as three inches in diameter. They usually form around the joints, elbows, buttocks, knees, feet, and hands, but they can appear anywhere. Some xanthomas are completely painless, while others are itchy or tender.
In addition to being a warning sign for high cholesterol – a serious health concern in itself – xanthomas can also be a symptom for diabetes, cirrhosis, or certain cancers. Regardless of what causes them, how large they are, or where they’re located, they certainly warrant a call to your doctor.
3. Unexplained Nighttime Back Pain
As many as 80% of Americans experience lower back pain at some point or another, so if you have the occasional twinge in your back, it probably isn’t anything to worry about. However, if you’re virtually pain-free during the day but in agony as soon as you lie down at night, it’s considered a red flag for your spinal health. Lower back pain that worsens or only appears at night could be a sign of anything, from a spinal bone infection to a tumor located along the spine.
This becomes even more likely if you also have pain that radiates down your legs, weakness or numbness in your legs, a sudden loss of bladder or bowel control, pain in your abdomen, or sudden weight loss. It may just be a sign that your mattress is wrong for your spine, but it may be something that will hurt you if you don’t see your doctor immediately.
4. Sudden Blurred Vision
If both of your eyes become blurry over time, you probably just need a new pair of glasses. If your vision becomes blurry over the course of a few days or even a few minutes, particularly if it’s only in one eye, call the doctor right away. Sudden vision loss means that either your eye itself or the nerves and veins connected to your eye have become damaged. This could mean a detached retina, a blood clot in one of the arteries of your eye, a hemorrhage in the eye, or even a stroke.
5. Extreme Thirst
If you feel constantly thirsty and find yourself getting up to use the restroom every few minutes, you may be experiencing early-onset diabetes. As sugar builds up in your bloodstream, your kidneys work harder than usual to filter the sugar out and excrete it in your urine; this makes you use the bathroom more often, which dehydrates you. Thirst is especially troubling if it’s accompanied by fatigue, weight loss, or again, blurred vision. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, get your glucose levels tested.
6. Unexplained Weight Loss
Losing weight without dieting sounds great, but it isn’t. If you aren’t obese, you aren’t trying to diet, and you lose more than 10% of your body weight in six months – for instance, losing 17 pounds or more if you weigh 170 pounds – call your doctor. Your sudden weight loss could mean anything from diabetes to a thyroid problem or even cancer. It could also mean that your body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly; sure, you aren’t getting all the fat and calories you eat, but you aren’t getting any vitamins or minerals, either.
7. Shortness Of Breath
If you feel short of breath because you’ve been exercising, you live at a high altitude, or it’s sweltering outside, that’s normal. If your shortness of breath comes on for no apparent reason, it’s cause for concern. It could mean a problem with your lungs, such as asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure in your lungs, or a potentially lethal blood clot. It could also be a sign that something is wrong with your heart, such as poor blood flow (angina) or an impending heart attack. If you feel frightened, distressed, or anxious (and not just because you’re wondering why you’re short of breath), it could be a sign of an anxiety or panic disorder.
8. Your Stools Are Strangely Colored
You probably know to be concerned if you see bright red blood in your stools. However, black stools can be just as alarming. If you have bleeding high in your gastrointestinal tract, the blood will dry out and turn black by the time it exits your body. This bleeding could come from anything, from an ulcer to a tumor. Certain medications like Pepto-Bismol cause black stools as a side effect, but if you aren’t taking any new medications, call your doctor, especially if you also have abdominal pain or nausea.
9. Bloating And Sudden Fullness
This one is most alarming for women. If you regularly feel an uncomfortable, bloated sensation in your abdomen and you tend to get full quickly after eating, it could be a sign of ovarian cancer, especially if your bowel or bladder habits are changing as well. However, bloating and fullness can be a concern to both sexes, as it might also mean gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acid erodes the esophagus, or peptic ulcers.
10. Changes In Lymph Nodes
If you’re on day three of your bout with the ‘flu and your lymph nodes are swollen, it probably just means that your body is working hard to fight off infection. If your lymph nodes are hard and swollen for no apparent reason, it’s because they’re fighting a disease you don’t even know about or because you’re experiencing lymphoma or a cancer that has spread to your lymph nodes. Your body is telling you that it’s sick. Listen to it.