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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 15:50 EDT

25 Symptoms You Must Not Ignore

April 11, 2007

NIGHT SWEATS

Most night sweats which can be severe enough to drench the sheets are caused by anxiety or stress. But they can sometimes be a sign of serious underlying illnesses such as TB and cancer of the lymph system (lymphoma).

A MOUTH ULCER THAT HASN’T HEALED WITHIN THREE WEEKS Normal mouth ulcers should heal within two to three weeks. Any that don’t may be cancerous and should be shown to your doctor or dentist.

Smokers and drinkers are most at risk from mouth cancer.

LOSS OF HEIGHT OR A BROKEN BONE FOLLOWING A RELATIVELY MINOR FALL Lots of perfectly healthy people break bones after a slip. But if the trauma was relatively minor, and you also noticed that you have lost a bit of height, you could have thinning of the bones (osteoporosis). Left untreated, osteoporosis is a major cause of pain, deformity and premature death.

COUGHING UP BLOOD

This often happens with infection, but may also be the only sign of an underlying lung cancer. Report it even if you are a non- smoker.

UNEXPLAINED WEIGHT LOSS

A vague symptom but one that always warrants investigation. It’s not normal to lose weight unless there is an obvious cause, and it always sets alarm bells ringing with doctors.

CHANGES IN YOUR BREAST

Hopefully every woman now knows the importance of reporting changes in their breasts such as a new lump, pain or differences in the nipples or skin to their doctor. And it applies to men, too it’s not only women who get breast cancer.

A TESTICULAR LUMP

Any new lump or swelling in or around the testicles should be reported to your doctor. Men between the ages of 19 and 45 are most at risk of cancer but it is comparatively rare.

More British men die of breast cancer than cancer of the testicle.

HOARSENESS LASTING MORE THAN SIX WEEKS

Persistent hoarseness, particularly in a smoker, can be a sign of cancer of the larynx (voicebox) and requires urgent referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist..

DIFFICULTY SWALLOWING

Anxiety can often give people the feeling they have a lump in their throat, but if food actually gets stuck (typically meat or bread) it may be a sign of cancer of the gullet. Report it immediately to your GP.

A NEW MOLE OR A CHANGE IN AN EXISTING ONE

Most moles develop by the time we reach our twenties and any new mole developing after this should be regarded with suspicion particularly if it is on the palms or soles. Use the ABCDE guide to spot suspicious changes in existing moles.

Alteration in appearance – normal moles do not grow darker, bleed or turn crusty.

Border irregularity – ordinary moles have smooth outlines.

Colour – most ordinary moles are even in colour, while suspicious ones often contain a variety of different hues.

Diameter – most ordinary moles are smaller than the thick end of a pencil (5-6 mm in diameter). Melanomas are often larger.

Enlargement – ordinary moles shouldn’t change shape over weeks or months, whereas melanomas do.

VAGINAL BLEEDING

There are two main types of vaginal bleeding that concern doctors. The first is bleeding after intercourse, particularly if it persists for more than a month in a woman over 35. The second is bleeding in women who have been through the menopause. There are innocent explanations for both, but they can also be a sign of cancer of the cervix or womb.

BLOOD IN YOUR URINE

Often accompanies comparatively innocent conditions such as cystitis and kidney stones but if it’s painless it can be a sign of cancer of the bladder or kidney particularly in people over the age of 45. Get it checked out..

DIFFICULTY GETTING OR MAINTAINING A PROPER ERECTION Erectile dysfunction/impotence may be the first sign of premature furring up of the arteries and should prompt further investigation to check hidden risk factors such as high blood pressure or raised cholesterol levels.

SKIN RASH

The most sinister type of skin rash is a petechial rash reddish purplish spots caused by bleeding into the skin. The key characteristic of a petechial rash is that it doesn’t blanch under pressure. Use the side of a glass tumbler to apply pressure over the rash and if you can still see it then it is petechial and you need to seek medical help. Causes range from the innocent (coughing and straining) through to the potentially life-threatening (meningitis and leukaemia)..

A CONVULSION

Loss of consciousness, with or without shaking of the limbs, in anyone other than someone known to have epilepsy, should always be checked out. It is up to your doctor to decide whether it is a simple faint.

Epilepsy tends to develop before the age of 20 and convulsions in older people may be a sign of a problem within the brain (including a brain tumour).

A SWOLLEN GLAND THAT DOESN’T SETTLE WITHIN A MONTH Swollen glands, particularly in the neck, are common and often related to minor throat infections. But any gland that hasn’t got smaller after three to four weeks needs checking out particularly if it is painless.

Enlarged non-tender glands can be a sign of lymphoma or cancer of the structures nearby..

A FUNNY TURN

You will often hear older people talking about having had a “funny turn” and it is easy to dismiss these. Causes vary from irregularities in heart rhythm, through to minor strokes. The latter are commonly a warning sign that a major stroke is imminent and should never be ignored. Tell-tale signs include headache, weakness of one side of the face, slurred speech and sometimes confusion. All can settle within a couple of hours but they still need looking into.

DISCOMFORT ON EXERTION

Furring up of the arteries supplying the heart, or the muscles of the leg, typically first shows up as discomfort on exertion chest or leg pain when walking briskly, particularly up hillson cold days. Don’t ignore it, book an appointment with your GP who can arrange the appropriate investigation..

RECTAL BLEEDING

Most cases of bleeding from the back passage are due to piles, but this is a diagnosis that can only be made by your GP after excluding other causes.

Report all cases of rectal bleeding to your doctor the most sinister ones tend to be painless with blood on, or in, the stool rather than just on the paper.

DIFFICULTY BREATHING WHEN LYING FLAT

Once again a symptom that tends totrouble older people and is an indicator of heart failure. Those affected typically sleep propped up on lots of pillows and if they slide off them during the night will wake feeling breathless and wheezing. The symptom is caused by fluid collecting on the lungs which causes little trouble when the person is upright, but which spreads over more of the lungs when they are lying flat on their back. Early intervention can dramatically improve symptoms but heart failure remains a common and serious condition the long-term outlook for most of those affected is worse than with most of the common cancers..

WAXY RING AROUND THE IRIS AND OTHER EYE CHANGES

If you are under 55, look in the mirror and examine the outer edge of the coloured part of your eye (iris). If there is a pale waxy ring around all, or part of your iris, it suggests you have high cholesterol levels and are at risk of premature heart disease and stroke.

This ring known as an arcus is common in older people in whom it may not signify anything. Changes in the eye can also give clues to high blood pressure, diabetes and even brain tumours..

A CHANGE IN YOUR FINGER NAILS

The hands can give a lot of clues to your general health and changes in the shape of your finger nails can be the only sign of lung cancer. Look at your nail from the side and you should notice a dip where the nail meets the cuticle and the skin of the finger. If this angle is lost and the nail rises at the cuticle then your finger could be “clubbed” and, while this can be normal in some people, it can be caused by an underlying lung cancer in others..

A CHANGE IN BOWEL HABIT

A persistent change in bowel habit nearly always to looser stools or diarrhoea that lasts for more than six weeks warrants investigation and, in the case of people over 60, rapid referral to exclude bowel cancer. A change to constipation is rarely sinister..

‘A persistent change in bowel habit warrants investigation’ ‘Any gland that hasn’t got smaller after three to four weeks needs checking out’

A SWOLLEN TENDER CALF

Painful swelling of the calf, particularly in women on the pill and anyone who has had a recent surgical operation, should be regarded as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) until proven otherwise. If left untreated, part of the clot in the deep veins of the leg can break off and travel through the circulation to the lungs a potentially fatal complication known as pulmonary embolus..

‘Painful swelling of the calf should be regarded as a DVT until proven otherwise’

CHEST PAIN

If you develop unexplained central chest pain then consider dialling 999. Pain associated with a heart attack classically affects the centre of the chest and is often described as a feeling of tightness or “crushing”. It may travel into the neck and left arm and may be accompanied by sweating and a feeling of sickness. But it can even be tricky for a doctor to differentiate between all the different causes of chest pain.

If in doubt treat it as a heart attack..