Symptoms You Should Never Ignore
Low energy, back aches, AWOL periods. Sound familiar? You may need to see your doctor, stat! “Harmless” symptoms like these can forecast scary health problems.
1) I'm not fat, but I do have a muffin top
What's the big deal? A waist circumference of more than 35 inches may put you at risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that raises your risk for diabetes and heart disease, even if you're at a healthy weight. “Belly fat also presses on the lungs, especially when you bend at the waist, making breathing more difficult,” says Gerald Fletcher, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. And it can release inflammatory chemicals that aggravate airways, so breathing becomes harder still.
Act now. Fight middle jiggle with interval training, bursts of intense exercise in your workout that rev heart rate and burn body fat faster. And swap simple carbohydrates such as white bread, sweets and biscuits for whole-wheat toast with low fat spreads. “The combination of whole-grain carbs and protein digests slowly, helping you avert spikes in insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage,” says Molly Kimball, RD, a sports dietician at Ochsner Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans. And aim to get no more than 10 percent of your total calories from added sugar.
2) Sometimes sex hurts
What's the big deal? (Besides the obvious, we mean!) You may have endometriosis, a disorder in which the endometrium, the tissue that lines the uterus, also grows on the ovaries, pelvis and fallopian tubes. The misplaced tissue still sheds during your period, causing local inflammation and scarring in the pelvis that can make sex painful, explains Harvey J. Kliman, MD, at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. Untreated, endometriosis can lead to infertility and possibly even tumours that could develop into certain types of ovarian cancer.
Act now. Consider the Pill, which thins endometrial tissue, making periods lighter and lowering the chances that discarded tissue will end up in the pelvis. And as always, protect your reproductive health of your sex life by seeing your gynecologist/obstetrician annually.
3) I always feel sluggish
What's the big deal? If you've ruled out the usual suspects (such as fast food addiction, insomnia or a lapsed gym membership), low energy could signal an under active thyroid, or hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland produces hormones that control metabolism, heart rate and more. “When hormone production is even slightly low, you can suffer a decline in mental function or develop depression, poor circulation or hypertension, all of which increase heart disease risk,” explains Leonard Wartofsky, MD, chairman of the department of medicine at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC.
Act now. If thyroid disorders run in your family, or if you have other signs of hypothyroidism such as a puffy face, weight gain or hoarseness, a blood test can determine whether your thyroid's performance is sub par; if so, taking a synthetic hormone can help.
4) My gums bleed when I brush my teeth
What's the big deal? You may have gum disease, a bacterial infection that affects millions. “Infected gums are a portal for bacteria to enter the bloodstream and inflame and possibly damage your heart and other organs,” says Steven Offenbacher, D.D.S., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry.
Act now. Root cleaning (which rids your teeth of rough spots where germs gather) can help treat infection, and severe cases may be managed with antibiotics, Dr Offenbacher says. For healthy gums for life, floss and brush at least twice a day and schedule a dental exam every six months.
5) Heartburn hits me a few times a week
What's the big deal? Two or more heartburn bouts a week could indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease, in which the valve between the stomach and throat doesn't always keep stomach acids from splashing up into the oesophagus. These acid baths can constrict airways, leading to asthma attacks and pneumonia, and elevate the risk for oesophageal cancer, warns Charlene Prather, M D, associate professor of internal medicine at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
Act now. Weight around your waist can press on your stomach, forcing up acids, so make sure your body-mass index is in a healthy range. Avoid large or fatty meals, which worsen reflux, and record what foods preceded your symptoms and leave them off your grocery list.
6) My migraines come with aura
What's the big deal? Up to 30 percent of migraine sufferers have aura — a visual disturbance (such as spots or flashing lights) and sometimes motor weakness or tingling sensations — which roughly doubles their risk for ischemic stroke. “One theory is that changes in brain activity where the aura originates temporarily decrease blood flow to the area and, in rare cases, do enough damage to cause a stroke,” says Elizabeth Loder, MD, chief of the division of headache and pain at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Act now. “Think carefully about using birth control with oestrogen, which can also raise your risk for stroke,” Dr Loder advises. To head off migraines, ID and avoid your personal triggers (food preservatives and stress are common ones), and ask your doctor if taking a prescribed drug at the first sign of headache can help you avert an attack.
7) My back constantly aches
What's the big deal? Chronic back pain that lingers six months or more is linked with a loss of brain volume that's equivalent to 10 to 20 years of normal aging, research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago shows. “We don't know why exactly — it has to do with how the brain adapts to pain — but the decline can damage our ability to assess emotional cues and control emotion,” says study co-author A Vania Apkarian, PhD.
Act now. Strong abs and pelvic muscles help support your back, so try core-strengthening pilates or yoga. Always maintain proper posture, says Jeffrey Gross, M D, of New York University School of Medicine in New York City. And keep your computer screen front and centre and at eye level to prevent neck and spine strain.
8) My asthma flares up about once a month
What's the big deal? “Asthma-related inflammation damages lung tissue and, if inadequately treated, can reduce lung capacity, which strains the heart,” notes Rachel Koelsch, M D, an asthma and allergy specialist at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. In fact, women with asthma have a 22 percent greater risk for heart disease, reports Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research in Oakland, California. “Even if you have only occasional attacks with no symptoms between, you can have hidden inflammation,” Dr Koelsch says.
Act now. Steer clear of cigarette smoke, perfume and other chemicals that irritate lungs, and see your doctor every 6 to 12 months to update your easy-breathing plan.
9) I feel sleep-deprived daily
What's the big deal? Your fatigue could stem from obstructive sleep apnoea, a condition in which throat muscles temporarily relax and block airways while you sleep. “This activates a surge in adrenaline that spikes your heart rate and blood pressure so you start breathing again,” says Carol Ash, DO, a pulmonary and sleep medicine specialist in Jamesburg, New Jersey. Over time, OSA increases your risk for diabetes, stroke and more.
Act now. Lose excess pounds to relieve pressure on your breathing passages, and sleep on your side to prevent your tongue from sliding back and blocking your airway. Also, avoid alcohol, which slows the brain's response to paused breathing. Still exhausted? Your doctor may prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure machine, a mask that sends air into your nose or mouth as you sleep.
10) I missed a period, but I'm not pregnant
What's the big deal? You might not mind if your period does a disappearing act, but it could mean your oestrogen levels are low, possibly due to a hormone disorder like hypothyroidism. That's bad news, because oestrogen helps regulate new bone formation and maintain a healthy heart. “Just three months without a period could affect your fertility and increases your risk for osteoporosis and heart disease,” says Nanette Santoro, M D, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Colorado at Denver.
Act now. If your period is MIA for more than three months, ask your gynecologist/obstetrician about getting screened for hormone disorders. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help restore your oestrogen levels and menstrual cycle.
Source: Self Magazine