5 Symptoms You Should Not Ignore

By Sara Vigneri

In 2012, after a career spent hosting a successful talk show, appearing in movies, and running an eponymous magazine, comedian Rosie O’Donnell found herself out of a job when her OWN network show was cancelled. But O’Donnell seemed to take her unemployment as a chance to slow down and spend time with her family.

One afternoon, in the middle of August 2012, O’Donnell felt an ache in her arms, and her chest hurt. Her son seemed concerned about her appearance, noting that she looked very white. But O’Donnell just figured she was getting sick. The next day she thankfully decided to visit her doctor who told her the shocking news – she had a heart attack.

This story is not unique. Unfortunately, certain symptoms can range wildly on the diagnostic spectrum. For example, a headache can be caused by something simple like hunger or PMS. Or it can be a sign of an aneurysm. Flu-like symptoms? Could be the flu…or it could be deadly meningitis. Is that ache in your chest a heart attack or heartburn? How do you know whether to head to the hospital?

I am guilty of ignoring symptoms. When I was in college I discovered an amazing book – The Merck Manual. Simply reading this book can turn anyone into a hypochondriac and I was no exception. But I quickly learned the challenge with self-diagnosis is the sheer number and variety of ailments that share symptoms. As a layman, I can figure out what might be causing my aches and pains, but without medical expertise, it’s difficult to know what is worth spending a co-pay to see a real expert.

SYMPTOM You feel a strange pain in the upper back accompanied with nausea and you are breaking out in a cold sweat. Is it the flu?

DON’T IGNORE Could be a heart attack. The problem is that up to 37 percent of women and 27 percent of men don’t experience chest pain during a heart attack according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Instead, you might feel shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or abdomen, jaw pain, pressure or pain in the upper back, lightheadedness or extreme fatigue.

SYMPTOM You have pain in your abdomen with nausea and possibly vomiting. Is it a stomach bug?

DON’T IGNORE Could be appendicitis. About seven percent of Americans will suffer from appendicitis in their lifetime and it usually happens between the age of 10 and 30. The key is to figure out where that pain stems from. The appendix is on the lower right side, but that doesn’t mean that’s where you will feel the pain initially. Pain often starts in the center of your stomach, above your belly button, and gets worse when you cough, move or take a deep breath. You might also experience symptoms associated with an infection, like fever, vomiting or lack of appetite.

Do you feel pain if you lie on your left side and someone presses on your right knee as your try to lift your right thigh? Try lying on your back and lift your right leg, do you feel pain if someone moves and rotates your lower leg? If you answer yes to either of these, you should see a doctor.

SYMPTOM After sitting for a long time, your leg hurts when you stand up. It looks red and feels warm to the touch. Is it pins and needles?

DON’T IGNORE Could be deep vein thrombosis (DVT), especially if you were sitting in a cramped airplane seat. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in your leg – the danger is when the clot breaks off and ends up clogging up arteries leading to your lungs. DVT can happen to anybody at any age and can cause disability and possibly death. But it can be preventable and treatable if discovered early so if you experience pain, swelling, tenderness or redness of the skin after sitting for a while, see a doctor.

SYMPTOM Losing weight without trying might sound like a dream come true, but unexplained weight loss can signal a health problem.

DON’T IGNORE If you’ve lost up to 10 percent of your weight during the past six months consult your doctor. An unexplained drop in weight could be caused by various conditions – including overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), diabetes, depression, liver disease, cancer or disorders that interfere with how your body absorbs nutrients.

SYMPTOM You may think that confusion or personality changes are just due to lack of sleep or too much stress. But what if there’s more to it?

DON’T IGNORE Changes in behavior or thinking could be caused by many problems, including infection, anemia, low blood sugar, dehydration or mental health conditions. Sometimes medications contribute to confusion or personality changes.

Seek medical attention if you have: sudden confused thinking, disorientation, sudden problems with concentration, or increased aggressiveness.

Bottom line, listen to your body. If something strikes you as out of the ordinary, schedule a doctor’s visit.

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