Most people don't have time to seek medical attention for every ache or pain. Minor discomforts can be unpleasant, but they’re usually caused by something small that goes away. But some seemingly small symptoms can be a red flag for something more serious. Read more about warning signs to help you determine when it’s important to make the time to see your doctor.
Warning Sign: Bloating and Pelvic Pain
Likely Cause: Gastrointestinal Bug
Worst-Case Scenario: Ovarian Cancer
Who hasn't sometimes felt like an over-inflated balloon, especially after a big meal? But if it happens often and the problem is new, the worst-case scenario could point to ovarian cancer. Other early warning signs include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, and difficulty eating.
If you start experiencing symptoms daily for more than two or three weeks, see your gynecologist immediately. If cancer is suspected, your doctor will send you to a gynecologic oncologist for an ultrasound or a CT scan to check for a tumor. The good news is that women with ovarian cancer, when diagnosed early, have a five-year survival rate of 90%.
Warning Sign: Pain and Swelling in Calf
Likely Cause: Pulled Muscle
Worst-Case Scenario: Blood Clot in the Leg
If your calf feels like it’s on fire, it could be deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) or a blood clot. When you sit for long periods, blood pools in your lower legs and can form a clot. When it's large enough it can block a vein in your leg, producing pain and swelling.
Unfortunately, this can make you want to rub your leg. Try to avoid doing so because if it is a blood clot, it could move further up to your lung, which could be very harmful.
If symptoms happen suddenly, immediately call your doctor or go to the emergency department. A sonogram will be used on your legs to find the presence of blood clots and you’ll receive a CT scan of your chest to make sure it hasn't moved to your lungs. If you do have a clot, your doctor will likely recommend you take blood thinners to dissolve it.
Warning Sign: Trouble Finding the Right Words
Likely Cause: Sleep Deprivation
Worst-Case Scenario: Stroke
We've all mangled words at one time or another. But if word problems amount to more than a fleeting tongue twister, it could be a stroke, where a blood vessel in the brain either bursts or is blocked by a clot, depriving brain cells of necessary oxygen. Weakness on one side of the body, slurred speech, dizziness, blurred vision, headache, neck stiffness or lack of coordination are all symptoms that you must pay attention to.
A ruptured aneurysm can cause brain damage within minutes, so call 911 immediately and get to the emergency room as soon as possible. Your doctor will order a CT scan to look for bleeding in the space around the brain. If hemorrhaging is found, you'll head into the operating room right away for surgery to repair the blood vessel.
Warning Sign: Numbness in Your Legs
Likely Cause: Herniated Disc
Worst-Case Scenario: Irreversible Nerve Damage
If you've just been lifting heavy things, anti-inflammatories should banish most pain. It could be a disc (one of the spongy rings that cushion bones in your spine) pressing on the spinal nerve. Without proper attention, you may risk permanent nerve damage. An X-ray or MRI can show whether a disc in your back has slipped or ruptured. As long as the numbness isn't getting worse, your doctor will probably prescribe physical therapy along with oral steroids to reduce nerve inflammation. But if you're still laid up after a few months, you may need surgery to remove the disc. If over-the-counter anti-inflammatories don't work, make an appointment to see an orthopedic specialist.