5 Symptoms you Should Never Ignore

Sleeping woman

By Jennifer Nelson

Patients often ask, "Doctor, is this something to worry about?" says Edward T. Creagan, MD, professor of medical oncology at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, and author of How Not to Be My Patient: A Physician's Secrets for Staying Healthy and Surviving Any Diagnosis.

Here, 5 symptoms you should not ignore:

Decreased Quality of Life or Sense of Well-being

If someone is going through a stressful event like a bankruptcy or divorce, or had a death in the family or some inciting event, that would be an explanation, but without any obvious event, an individual who had been in good health and no longer has good health because of fatigue, decrease of appetite, or loss of weight, that’s a red flag that really requires professional intervention warns Creagan.

“One would have to be concerned firstly about a physical issue such as a malignancy or a cancer. And without question an individual could be developing a cardiac or heart abnormality, which could present as a decrease in quality of life, but we must recognize that there is an intrinsic and inherent mind-body connection and without a doubt, emotional issues or psychiatric issues clearly can present as a physical illness requiring professional intervention, too,” says Creagan.

Depression is as worrisome as a physical illness since patients can have weight loss, loss of appetite and an unravelling of ambition, focus, drive and energy.

Creagan advises seeing a health professional within a week of such a decrease in quality of life.1

Unexplained Lumps and Bumps

If there is an unexplained lump, bump, spot or swelling for which there is no obvious explanation a professional evaluation is clearly warranted. In particular, a lump in the breast requires prompt intervention, but any painless swelling without a history of trauma that appears over several days and is not tender could warrant a potential problem.

Creagan says to get lumps checked out as soon as possible and not wait weeks to see if it disappears. “Every provider would be concerned about a cancer, either a primary cancer or a secondary cancer that spread into a lymph node or into the skin.”

Secondary cancers are when an original cancer spreads to another area in the body and can present as spots on the skin, or more often raised, palpable lumps that protrude above the skin.

“The sooner that a cancer is diagnosed, staged and properly treated, the better the short and long term prognosis for that patient,” he says.2

Gastro Symptoms: Blood in the stool, persistent abdominal pain weight loss

Blood in the stool could be a sign of something completely benign such a hemorrhoids, to something as serious as inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. “If you see these symptoms, especially if you are over the age of 50, you should consult a gastroenterologist,” says Jay Desai, MD, clinical instructor of medicine at New York University's Langone Medical Center and a member of New York Gastroenterology Associates.

What’s more there are many diseases that can cause abdominal pain, including acid reflux disease, ulcers, and a gallbladder or pancreas issue. If these symptoms persist for more than a couple weeks, you should consult a gastroenterologist. In addition, a decrease in appetite or an unexplained weight loss are gastro issues that should be taken seriously. They could signal a thyroid hormone dysfunction, a problem absorbing foods like gluten or something as serious as cancer. See your doctor if any of these stomach woes plaque you for more than a few weeks.3

Losing Track of Dates, Times, Seasons

As adults grow older, signs of aging like forgetting to make a monthly payment, temporarily losing track of belongings or occasionally forgetting which word to use are all normal,” says Janette Foley, administrator of dementia services at Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services. But when older loved ones begin losing track of dates, seasons, passage of time and rely heavily on memory aids (reminder notes and repetitive verbal reminders), these signs may be important indicators of Alzheimer's disease or dementia and should not be ignored.4

Other signs of dementia and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease include forgetting recently learned information, difficulty with everyday tasks like preparing food or using the phone, poor judgment about money or other issues, and rapid changes in mood or personality.5 If you suspect dementia or the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in yourself or a loved one, bring it to the attention of your doctor for a proper evaluation.

Fatigue with Insomnia

“A critical, but often overlooked mix of symptoms is fatigue associated with insomnia. This combination, especially when associated with widespread achiness, suggests that your body is going through an "Energy Crisis" and is getting ready to trip a circuit breaker/blow a fuse,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, founder of the Practitioners Alliance Network (PAN) and author of The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. “Doing so is the trigger for fibromyalgia.” It may of course indicate other issues like sleep apnea, a sleeping disorder where you're awakened dozens of times per night. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder with widespread muscle and joint pain, plus fatigue. It is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

“If you have these symptoms, this is your body's way of saying ‘slow down,” says Teitelbaum. It’s time to ease back and regroup rather than push forward. Meanwhile he is a proponent of the SHINE Protocol: Sleep, Hormonal support, Infections, Nutritional support, and Exercise as able. “This was shown in our research to dramatically improve energy, being highly effective in even treating full blown fibromyalgia.”6

Fibromyalgia symptoms can also include anxiety and depression, abdominal pain, headaches, dry mouth, inability to concentrate and finger numbness and tingling among others. See your doctor if you have a combination of fatigue and insomnia. While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are a host of medications, alternative therapies and treatments that are effective and can reduce pain and fatigue.7

While it's human nature to take a wait and see approach, these symptoms should be seen by your healthcare provider sooner rather than later for the best outcomes and a return to good health.

Sources not cited or linked to above:

1,2 Edward Creagan, MD, interview October 30, 2014
3 Jay Desai, MD, interview October 30,2014
4 Janette Foley interview, October 29,2014
5 Alzheimer’s Association
6 Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, interview, October 30, 2014
7 National Fibromyalgia Association

This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical, legal, financial, or other professional advice or used in place of consulting a licensed professional. You should consult with an applicable licensed professional to determine what is right for you.

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