Sometimes when you're feeling crappy, you just need to ride it out with a good night's sleep, steamy showers, and some good old chicken soup. But other times, you might experience symptoms that aren't easily explained, don't respond to typical remedies, and could signify a more serious underlying issue. If you've noticed any of the following symptoms, head to your G.P. to get a professional opinion as to what might be going on.
You need new glasses
It could just be that your prescription is changing (which happens as we get older). But blurry vision that develops out of nowhere or comes too soon after another prescription change could be an indicator of diabetes. Increasing sugar levels can actually cause fluid to build up in your eye’s lens, which can blur your vision or cause nearsightedness.
You can't see to one side
Strokes can cause a lot of issues that affect just one side of your body, and vision problems are no exception. It’s not like you’ll suddenly go blind in one eye, but if you notice that a specific field of vision (say, to the left) is limited in each eye, that’s a red flag.
There's blood in your urine
Don’t write this off as a mysterious period side effect—blood in the toilet bowl outside of your menstruation cycle is the most common early symptom of bladder cancer. It’s typically painless and can occur super sporadically, but blood in your urine should never be ignored.
Your cough won't quit
Most of the time, your cough is caused by a relatively benign issue like bronchitis, allergies, or asthma. But if you’re experiencing a consistent cough, it could be a symptom of a more serious condition, like lung cancer, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a lung disease that causes you to have trouble breathing), or even tuberculosis.
Your jeans don't fit all of a sudden
Unexplained weight loss is not a reason to celebrate—it could actually be the first clue of a number of serious conditions, like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, ulcers, depression, or even cancer. Don’t go on a shopping spree for your new size before getting an explanation as to what might be causing the pounds to melt off.
Your bellybutton hurts
Yep, that’s a thing. Pain behind the belly button could be an indicator of an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, which usually affects the small intestine and/or colon. But you’ll almost always experience additional symptoms, like severe diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss.
Your skin or the white of your eyes is turning yellow
That’s jaundice, and it’s a telltale sign of a gallstone. The color comes from a buildup of bilirubin—a yellowish substance that’s normally processed by the liver and turned into bile in the gallbladder. This occurs when a gallstone blocks the bile duct, the route bile is supposed to take from the gallbladder to the small intestine.
You have dark pee and light poo
If the colors of your bowel movements seems off, that could also mean you're dealing with a gallstone. A bile duct blockage means something isn’t right in the breakdown of bilirubin during your digestive process, and it can cause your urine to turn dark and your stools to turn light.
Your legs or ankles are swollen
Bloating doesn’t just occur in your abdomen. If you notice your lower body is puffed up (and that it’s getting worse and/or creeping up your body), that may mean you have a heart valve problem. When your heart is unable to process blood in and out at the proper rate, it causes edema, or a buildup of fluids—a common symptom of congestive heart failure.
You have truly WTF-worthy vaginal discharge
Discharge can come in many types, most of which correspond with their own issues (like a yeast or bacterial infection), but if you notice foul-smelling, watery, pink, brown, or bloody discharge—especially if it comes with chunks of tissue—that could hint at cervical cancer. The discharge is what happens when masses and tumors secrete fluid.
Your jaw is killing you
Jaw pain is obviously linked to toothaches and stress (hello, clenching and grinding), but if there’s no other explanation and it keeps getting worse, jaw pain could actually be a sign of a heart attack. Women actually report feeling pain in their jaws, arms, and back in addition to their chests.
Your headache came out of absolutely nowhere
All headaches suck, but a thunderclap headache—which has been likened to someone hitting you in the head with a hammer—takes the cake. If you experience a sudden, severe headache that doesn’t go away quick, you could have a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), or bleeding within your brain caused by a leaking aneurysm. Get yourself to the hospital STAT.
It hurts to have sex
While pain during intercourse could just be related to dryness down below or an allergic reaction, there are some more serious culprits, like: endometriosis, urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, sexually transmitted diseases, or even vaginismus, a severe tightening of the vaginal muscles during penetration. If you feel pain at the entrance of the vagina or a deeper pain during penetration, it’s a heads up that’s something isn’t right.
You have to pee all the time
That constant urge to go isn’t just annoying. It could be a clue that you have diabetes—it’s your body’s way of expelling all that extra sugar in your bloodstream. It’s also a classic symptom of a urinary tract infection, when bacteria irritates your urethra and bladder; leaving a UTI untreated could lead to a bladder or kidney infection.
You lose feeling in your hands and feet a lot
If your extremities go numb or get all tingly on the reg, you might have diabetes. That sensation is actually called neuropathy, and it can occur because diabetes reduces the blood flow to your hands, arms, legs, and feet; over time, the disease can actually damage your blood vessels and nerves.
There’s a sharp pain in your side
There are cramps, and then there’s a super-specific pain in your side that can feel absolutely agonizing. If it’s on your right side, that could be a sign of appendicitis, which happens when something (like a piece of bacteria) blocks up the organ and causes it to become dangerously inflamed. Or it could hint at an ovarian cyst, a fluid-filled sac that can twist or rupture.
You’re gassy, bloated, *and* your stomach hurts
This trifecta of uncomfortable symptoms could point towards an ovarian cancer diagnosis. The Gynecologic Cancer Foundation named these issues as the main early symptoms. Additional red flags for this less common gynecological disease include frequent urination, constipation, menstrual changes, pain during intercourse, and heartburn.
Your legs are swollen and sore
If you’ve been sitting for waaay too long (think: an international flight), blood can pool in your lower body and start to clot. If that clot—also known as deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT—gets bigger, it could actually stop up your vein or artery, causing the area around it to hurt and swell.
Your period has gone MIA
Periods don’t always adhere exactly to a 28-day schedule, but if you’re suddenly experiencing no period, it could be that you have a thyroid disorder (your thyroid regulates your menstrual cycles) or polycystic ovary syndrome, an excess of the chemicals that affect how your ovaries function. If your period is late, start with a pregnancy test—but know that stress, premature menopause, major weight loss, or chronic diseases like celiacs could be to blame.
There are clots of blood in your period
Everyone’s period is different—lighter, darker, heavier, whatever—and you may notice a clot every once in awhile, which is NBD. But consistent, golf-ball sized clots could be a sign of uterine fibroids, non-cancerous growths that can develop in your uterus and cause abnormal (and sometimes extremely heavy) bleeding.
You feel weak or numb on one side of your body
This is a major red flag: If you suddenly lose strength or sensation on one side of your body (especially in the arm and leg), you could be having a stroke. Each side of your brain controls the opposite side of your body, so bleeding in one side will manifest on the other. You should seek medical attention ASAP if you notice this.
You have consistent heartburn
That burning sensation in your chest isn’t too abnormal—more than 60 million Americans experience it at least once a month. But if you’re getting heartburn more than twice a week, (especially if it comes without the spicy meal beforehand), you could have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that can cause serious complications like ulcers and asthma.
Your chest hurts in passing
Heartburn could be to blame for that tight sensation in your chest, but so could a heart attack. Women’s heart attack symptoms are less severe than men’s, so pay attention to any weird feelings in that area, especially if you know you’re at risk. That squeezing feeling could also come with fatigue, throat pain, or shortness of breath.
As awful as it feels, constipation—or having to go number two less than three times per week or not being able to complete your bowel movements—is NBD. But a thyroid problem, scarring from injury to the lining of the colon, IBS, or side effects from medications could also be to blame for your blockages. Don’t be embarrassed to bring up your bowel movements if trying to go to the bathroom is starting to disrupt your life.
You’re so freaking tired
Who isn’t exhausted? Obviously, feeling tired after a sleepless night or a super-stressful week isn’t something to be majorly concerned about; but if you can’t even walk up the stairs without feeling winded or if it seems like your body is working overtime to accomplish tasks that used to feel easy, your doc should run some tests to get to the root cause of your fatigue. (It could be something as serious as a heart issue.)
You feel like you need to throw up all the time
First, is there a chance you’re pregnant? If not, nausea could hint at a number of issues, from migraines to pelvic congestion syndrome (where you have dilated veins in your pelvis), stress, or gallstones. Nausea is also a common symptom of cancer, including cervical cancer.
You’re always too hot or too cold
If you can never get comfortable at room temperature, you could have a thyroid disorder. Hyperthyroidism (or an overactive thyroid) speeds up your normal body processes, making you burn energy faster, which can cause you to overheat. Conversely, hypothyroidism slows your body down, making it harder for you to stay warm.
It burns when you pee
Most women know this symptom as a red-flag for UTIs and other down-there infections, but it could also be a clue that you’re suffering from kidney stones. The burning sensation comes when a stone leaves your urethra and enters your bladder, which is irritating AF.
You have no interest in your favorite foods
There are benign reasons for a loss of appetite (stress is the big one here), but one more serious culprit could be pancreatic cancer. The abdomen has limited real estate, and when tumors grow there, they put pressure on surrounding organs, including your stomach. Sudden weight loss could also be caused by gut disease, diabetes, adrenal insufficiency, or a thyroid disorder.
You’re super bloated
Sure, you could be OD'ing on salt too often, but if you’re consistently bloated, that could be a sign of abdominal issues. A distended belly could be an early warning sign for pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer or cysts—another growth that takes up space in your abdomen—so don’t be too quick to blame your last meal.
Your fever is too high—or won’t break
If you have a fever of 38°C or higher, that could be a sign of a bladder infection; the higher your temperature, the more likely that is. And any fever that reaches 39°C or lasts longer than a week should be checked out by a doctor. Fevers can also be tied to autoimmune diseases—there are over 80 unique kinds, but many share general symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and low-grade fever.
Your back *and* bowel or bladder are killing you
This duo of discomfort is a sign of a rare health issue called cauda equina syndrome. This condition puts pressure on the nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord connected to your pelvic organs, which can cause incontinence and groin numbness. It requires emergency surgery, or else you might not make a full recovery.
There’s blood in your poo
If you notice spots of red on your toilet paper, don’t freak out—that just means you have a fissure, a small, self-healing tear in your rectum typically caused by passing a particularly large load. But if you actually see blood in the stool, that could be a sign of cancer.
There’s blood in your vomit
Just like an intense upheave can burst a blood vessel in your eye, it can burst small vessels in your throat, which might mean you see specks of blood in the toilet. But bright red vomit or clotty vomit (ew, sorry) could indicate life-threatening bleeding in the stomach or esophagus, and should send you straight to the ER.
You’re losing a ton of hair
If you notice an abnormal amount of hair filling up your brush, don’t reach straight for the hair thickening shampoo. Thinning hair could be masking an underlying hormonal issue, a thyroid disorder, or even anemia (low red blood cell count). Chances are, hair loss won’t be the only symptom, so pay extra attention to changes in your energy levels, period, weight, and skin texture.
You have persistent unexplained pain
Pain is subjective, and it’s a pretty vague symptom that can come along with almost any condition out there. But persistent pain should not be ignored. If you’re regularly getting headaches or experiencing chest pain more often than not, there could be something more serious causing that pain.
This article originally appeared in Women's Health US