Some warning signs of dangerous diseases are hard to miss. If you have sharp pains before a heart attack, for example, you're bound to notice. And jaundice from liver disease can be pretty tough to overlook. But other signs that something is wrong with your body are much more subtle. People often overlook early symptoms of dangerous diseases, putting them at greater risk than if they'd caught the condition early. You should never keep things from your doctor, but patients may withhold information about symptoms they think are small - but are actually serious. These symptoms are often missed but can signal some dangerous diseases.
Alzheimer's: Hand-eye coordination
Most people think that forgetfulness is one of the only detectable warning signs of Alzheimer's, but the disease has many lesser-known symptoms. In addition to forgetting things easily, those with Alzheimer's may experience a lack of hand-eye coordination and express difficulty completing tasks such as sewing, playing a musical instrument or drawing.
Aggression is another warning sign of Alzheimer's and dementia. Those with memory lapses may feel frustrated and lash out at family members, friends and caretakers. Those with Alzheimer's are also at greater risk for anxiety and depression.
Cancer: Unexplained weight loss
While you might think that unexpected weight loss is a stroke of good luck, it may be a sign that something is wrong. An early symptom of many types of cancer, including leukemia, stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer and lung cancer, is unexplained weight loss. If you haven't changed your diet or exercise habits and yet you're dropping pounds, it's time to see the doctor.
Leukemia: Flu-like symptoms
Symptoms of leukemia can be subtle and are easily misinterpreted. Early on, people with leukemia will often experience flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. If these symptoms are paired with others such as red spots on the skin, frequent nosebleeds or unexplained bruising, see a doctor right away.
Bladder cancer: Blood in urine
Since having blood in your urine may not cause any pain and may occur independently of other symptoms, you may not think it's worth mentioning. But blood in your urine is a symptom that should never be ignored. There are a few potential causes, one of which is bladder cancer. This is the clearest clue to your doctor that a screening is necessary, and reporting blood in urine is how many cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed.
Breast cancer: Swelling in the armpit
People are often told to watch out for lumps in the breast during self-exams, but lumps may also appear in the upper chest and armpit. Doctors will check these areas as well, but catching a lump earlier is always better. When performing self-exams, ensure you check the entire area, including under your arms and above your breasts. When women with breast cancer shared their survival stories, early detection of a tumor was often crucial to their recovery.
Prostate cancer: Urinary symptoms
Early warning signs of prostate cancer often show up as abnormalities of the urinary tract. You may find you need to pee more frequently, that urination starts and stops or you have difficulty urinating. Some people dismiss these symptoms, thinking that they're no big deal - and they might not be. But this is one of the secrets you shouldn't keep from your doctor.
Esophageal cancer: Heartburn
Some people have heartburn and are perfectly healthy otherwise. After all, there are plenty of common foods that can trigger heartburn. But indigestion and severe heartburn may be indicative of a bigger problem. Those with esophageal cancer also sometimes experience acid reflux as an early warning sign, for example. Talk to your doctor to rule out any serious conditions.
Esophageal cancer: Difficulty swallowing
Esophageal cancer is often asymptomatic in its early stages, but difficulty swallowing is usually one of the first symptoms to arise. It may seem like a typical instance of something getting caught in your throat or choking, but as the disease progresses, this symptom (called dysphagia) becomes more severe and can cause obstructions. If you find you're frequently struggling to normally swallow your food or beverages, talk to your doctor right away.
Stomach cancer: Bloating and feelings of fullness
Stomach cancer often develops without showing symptoms, making the disease difficult to catch early. Even when there are symptoms, they're often overlooked. For example, an early sign of stomach cancer is feeling full quickly after you begin eating small amounts of food. Some people also will feel bloated or experience general stomach discomfort. These symptoms can arise from any number of issues, but if they persist or you notice a pattern, you should definitely see a doctor to get to the root of what's going on.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: Swollen lymph nodes
Your lymph nodes may swell due to a less serious condition such as an infection - so if you find a swollen lymph node, don't be alarmed. If you find that the lymph node is inflamed and you have one or more other symptoms, you should consult your doctor. Other symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, confusion, headaches and persistent cough.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: Night sweats
No matter what, you should seek medical attention if you're waking up drenched in sweat on multiple nights. Night sweats can arise for a number of reasons ranging from menopause to a neurological condition. Some types of cancer also have night sweats as a symptom, especially lymphoma.
Pancreatic cancer: Upper body and back pain
Early warning signs of pancreatic cancer can be vague and hard to pin down, but it helps if you know what to look for. Cancers that begin near the belly can become large enough that they press on other organs. This can cause internal pain in the abdomen and back. Back pain could be caused by any number of things, some as minor as slouching. But if the pain is severe, abnormal or sudden, it's a sign that a more serious condition could be the cause.
Pancreatic cancer: Enlarged liver or gallbladder
This is something that doctors are well-versed in spotting, but that patients often don't notice on their own. If your liver or gallbladder is enlarged, you will be able to feel it slightly beneath the right side of your ribcage. It will feel like a strange lump beneath the surface. It occurs because pancreatic cancer can sometimes block the bile duct to the gallbladder, which causes it to enlarge. Pancreatic cancer may also affect the liver, causing it to enlarge.
Lung cancer: Swollen fingertips
Your nails, skin and hair can be hiding clues about your overall health. Lung cancer results in a condition called hypertrophic pulmonary osteoarthropathy (HPOA) for some, but not all, patients. HPOA causes something called clubbing wherein the ends of the fingers become enlarged. Nails curve to become spoon-shaped as well, and the patient may experience pain. If you notice this swelling, don't shrug it off.
Heart disease: Shortness of breath
There are a few rather unexpected signs of heart trouble, and since people tend to only look for chest pain, they're often overlooked. Don't assume that being out of shape is responsible for sudden shortness of breath. If you find that even small amounts of activity, such as walking up a couple of stairs or walking through your neighborhood, leave you breathless, mention this to your doctor. It could be an early warning sign of heart trouble.
Heart disease: Fatigue
If you find that you feel fatigued regardless of getting the hours of sleep you need, it could be a sign that your heart is in trouble. Heart disease makes it difficult for your heart to pump blood as efficiently as it needs to. This can make you feel tired and drained as a result. Fatigue is a symptom of not only heart disease, but also of an oncoming heart attack. This symptom is especially common for women experiencing a heart attack, which is one of the ways in which symptoms differ from women to men.
Heart disease: Shoulder and neck pain
Neck and shoulder pain could just be a sign that you slouch too much, but there are other possible causes that shouldn't be ignored. These pains are a warning sign of heart disease as nerve pathways may cause pain to spread from the chest to the shoulders and neck. Don't just go get a massage - talk to a cardiologist or other doctor to hear how you can better care for your heart.
Chronic kidney disease: Swelling of the feet and hands
Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidneys gradually stop functioning properly, resulting in waste and fluid buildup in the body. It's known as a "silent" killer since symptoms often don't show up until the disease has already progressed. One sign that your kidneys are in trouble is swelling of the hands and feet, often due to fluid buildup in the extremities. If you notice this symptom alongside others such as nausea, fatigue and changes in urination, there is definitely cause for concern.
Diabetes: Frequent urination and thirst
Are you always thirsty, yet also always running to the bathroom? This could be an early warning sign of diabetes. Diabetes slows the body's ability to process sugar in the bloodstream. Your body gets rid of this extra sugar through urine. This makes urination more frequent, which also flushes water from your system. You're likely to feel more dehydrated than usual, regardless of whether you're drinking enough water every day.
Diabetes: Weight loss
This may seem surprising, since diabetes is often correlated with higher weight. But diabetes can cause unexplained weight loss. Fluid loss due to excess urination can result in a loss of water weight. And diabetes' interference with insulin prevents your cells from being able to use as much energy from sugar, forcing your body to resort to burning fat and muscle for fuel. This can result in weight loss over time.
Since diet and diabetes are so closely intertwined, it may not come as a surprise that diabetes affects your appetite. Appetite changes are common with a number of diseases, but diabetes especially. Due to problems with insulin, people with diabetes have a hard time managing blood sugar. When blood sugar dips too low, it can cause hunger and lightheadedness. After the person eats, blood sugar skyrockets, only to crash again soon after and cause hunger to come back. It can become a vicious cycle that leads to overeating and worsening blood sugar problems. If you find you are frequently hungry shortly after you've eaten, talk to your doctor about diabetes to catch it or rule it out.
Blood sugar fluctuations, characteristic of diabetes, can mess with your mood. When blood sugar drops, it can cause a dip in mood, resulting in anger, sadness and irritability. If you find your moods feel out of control in addition to other diabetes warning signs such as those previously mentioned, seek medical attention to see if diabetes is a concern.
Sleep apnea: Loud snoring
Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person will intermittently stop breathing while asleep. This can interfere with the body's ability to get enough oxygen and can increase the risk of a number of health problems, including heart disease and stroke. People with sleep apnea are more likely to be loud snorers. While snoring is usually benign, if you start snoring loudly in later stages of your life when you previously did not, it may be worth mentioning to your doctor.
Sleep apnea: Morning headaches
In addition to loud snoring, sleep apnea can be caught from other symptoms. For example, headaches may occur in the mornings due to the disruption of the brain throughout the sleep cycle overnight. A person with sleep apnea may also feel tired, regardless of having gotten enough rest.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome: Irregular or missed periods
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is often overlooked by patients and medical providers. Missing a period here and there is relatively normal, but if your period is irregular for many months, it could be a sign that something is wrong. Diet changes, aging and other factors may also mess with your cycle. But a missed or irregular period is also a symptom of PCOS. Left undiagnosed, PCOS can lead to infertility and other health problems such as metabolic disorders.
Liver disease: Bruising easily
Normally, the liver creates blood clotting proteins essential for healing. However, if your liver is in trouble, it may not function as efficiently. This can result in bruises that pop up easily and excessive bleeding when you have a cut or other injury to the skin. These symptoms are hard to catch since you might not think anything of it when you keep finding bruises. But it could be a sign that something is wrong.
Stomach ulcers: Bloating and indigestion
Left untreated, stomach ulcers can worsen and turn into bleeding ulcers, which can be life-threatening. Bloating and stomach pain can occur for many less-serious reasons, so oftentimes people will shrug it off and maybe eat a snack that could help tame bloat. But if it becomes a chronic issue, a stomach ulcer could be to blame.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: Pain in the upper abdomen
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can be hard to catch since the symptoms are often subtle. If there are early warning signs, however, they would include fatigue and pain in the upper abdomen where the liver is located. NAFLD can be life-threatening if left untreated, so it's crucial not to ignore these signs if they do arise - especially if you experience high blood pressure or other risk factors for the disease.
Trouble breathing or breathlessness is sometimes chalked up to just a normal symptom of aging and is therefore often overlooked. However, it's a serious warning sign that your lungs are in trouble. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a blanket term used to describe progressive and incurable lung diseases, which are one of the most common silent killers in America.
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