Sometimes it can be hard to figure out if you really need to go see the doctor. Most of us probably know that if you have chest pain or sudden weakness, dizziness or changes in vision, you need to get to the emergency room as soon as possible. But how does it distinguish signs and symptoms that could be just a normal part of aging compared to a condition that could be much more serious? Delaying treatment could, in many cases, have a significant impact on your health and well-being.
Over the years, I have seen many patients who waited too long, often because they did not believe that what they were experiencing was a big problem. Here are 6 symptoms that you should not ignore:
1. Unexpected weight loss. You read it correctly. If you are losing weight and do not try to do so, you should investigate it, especially because the weight loss becomes 10 or 15 pounds. Usually, we gain weight as we get older, so involuntary weight loss could be a sign of a serious problem. Cancer often presents as weight loss, as well as thyroid disease, celiac disease, and infections such as HIV or hepatitis C.
2. Moles that change color. Never, never ignore a mole that changes color, shape or size. Be sure to get a full-body skin exam by a dermatologist every year. Skin cancer is the most common cancer, and part of the reason could be that people do not get screened often enough to spot potentially cancerous spots before they cause problems. Do not make the mistake of assuming that each place is just a freckle.
3. Excessive sleep. I realize that many people will say that sleeping too much is a problem they would like to have! But if you are sleeping more than 9 hours a day, it could be a sign of depression, chronic inflammation or even multiple sclerosis. If you are often tired, sleep during the day and are overweight, too much sleep could be part of a condition called narcolepsy.
4. Persistent cough If you have a cough that lasts more than 2 months, you should review it. A persistent cough is not only annoying, it can also be a signal from your body that something is not right, maybe asthma or even acid reflux disease.
5. Abdominal pain in the lower right quadrant. Belly pains are common, but belly pain in a specific location, especially in the right lower quadrant, should be examined if it lasts more than a couple of days or is of an intense nature. Appendicitis is classically presented as pain around the navel, but it can also be felt as a worsening of pain on the right side of the abdomen. I know from personal experience. Do not be like me and ignore it, thinking it’s just an indigestion or a virus. I waited too long and my appendix broke, requiring emergency surgery.
6. Chronic pain. You are probably wondering what is considered “chronic”. Doctors are taught that daily pain that lasts more than 12 weeks is considered chronic. It is not normal, at any age, to have pain every day that significantly limits your activity. The aches and pains of aging should not be causing a major limitation in the way you live your life. The cause of chronic pain should always be determined, but you should go to see the doctor to help you solve it. We have learned a lot about the biological and neurological mechanisms of pain in the last decade. There are new therapies, both medical and non-medical, that can help relieve pain. So please do not suffer unnecessarily.
Our bodies are excellent communicators, they often tell us what is wrong, if we just listen more carefully. So when you feel that something is not right, take a look.