A headache, dizziness, fatigue – these are all annoyances that busy women often ignore. But when it comes to your health, you are your own best resource. You know your body better than anyone, so pay attention to the way you feel. It could indicate an underlying problem.
Visiting your primary care physician and getting regular health screenings play a key role in your health, especially if you have chronic issues such as diabetes, glaucoma, hypertension or cardiovascular disease. But even if you’re healthy, keep an eye out for these symptoms:
If you experience worsening or more severe headaches, or headaches accompanied by other neurological symptoms, visit your doctor.
Additional neurological symptoms you should never ignore include:
Weakness on one side of the body
These are all signs of something more serious, like a stroke or a problem with your blood pressure. Keep in mind that high blood pressure, often referred to as the “silent killer,” doesn't present with any sort of scary signs until it’s been elevated for a while.
Heart attacks and chest pain can present differently in women compared with men. Women might not have that classic “pressure feeling,” like something sitting on your chest, but may feel:
Shakiness in the chest
Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
More fatigued than usual when moving around or exercising
Nausea or lightheadedness
Breaking out in a sweat
These simple signs might be telling you that something may be wrong, so go see your doctor.
Pay attention to any changes in your gut health, which could signal problems in the GI tract.
Signs to look for include:
Suddenly experiencing prolonged or frequent diarrhea or constipation
Bloating or abdominal pain
Feeling full after not eating much
Nausea or vomiting
Colon cancer can show up as blood in your stool, so don’t ignore it. In fact, colon cancer prevalence is rising in women, largely because of inactivity and dietary choices.
If you’re of child-bearing age and experiencing bleeding outside your regular menstrual cycles, that might indicate an infection or something more serious.
If you’ve gone through menopause and then develop bleeding again, that's also concerning.
You also shouldn’t ignore issues that affect your quality of life, even if they don’t cause serious harm. For example, if you experience a lot of pain with your menstrual cycles, that doesn’t necessarily suggest cancer, but it could be endometriosis or fibroids.
For breast issues, look for these signs:
Redness or radiating heat from the breast
Fluid leakage from the nipples
Depending on genetic makeup and family history, plan to have a mammogram screening every one or two years.
Build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis by consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D and doing weight-bearing and strength-training activities.
Warning signs to look for:
Severe midline back pain that intensifies at night
Back pain that radiates or worsens
Numbness and tingling
Kidney and Urinary Tract
If you experience blood in your urine or severe back or side pain, especially if it’s followed by the urge to urinate, see your doctor. It could be a urinary tract infection (UTI), a kidney stone or something more serious. The best way to prevent kidney stones? Drink plenty of water and urinate regularly.
If you experience frequent UTIs, your doctor will need to get to the root of the problem. In perimenopausal or postmenopausal women, estrogen loss can increase the risk of UTIs.
If you notice a loss of sensation in your hands or feet, it can be an early sign of diabetes or mean your diabetes is not well-controlled, which can transition into a more serious problem. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar regularly and your feet for signs of infection.
It’s common for women to take care of everyone else and put themselves last. If that sounds like you, practice self-care and “put your own oxygen mask on first.” That means take care of the basics — follow a healthy diet, get good sleep, manage stress, don’t smoke and exercise regularly.
See your doctor annually and discuss what health screenings make sense for you. Remember, you can’t take care of others if you’re not well yourself.
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