Women’s health warning signs

By Marsha Bonhart

It’s the same old song. I have sung it many times (and not necessarily with feeling). Too tired, too busy; just disregard or cancel the doctor’s appointments. Believe it or not, it is the better-educated women who make the sometimes fatal mistake of not paying closer attention to their health. Taking care of family is always the priority, but women looking at their own symptoms get a poor audience.

Fatigue becomes a way of life for just about everyone. Fast-paced lifestyles leave little room to slow down and to listen carefully to our bodies. When fatigue reaches the acute stage, it could be a sign of depression, sleep apnea, heart disease, hypothyroidism, anemia or even lung cancer. Most of us are on overload, but if low energy and exhaustion last longer than a couple of weeks, it’s wise to check in with your family practice physician.

Rectal bleeding could be a sign of a hemorrhoid, which is a common problem. Hemorrhoids are blood vessels that are swollen in and around the inside or outside of the anus. They can protrude during bowel movements and can cause a lot of pain, if they are on the outside, they can bleed when they are rubbed or scratched. But bleeding in that area can also indicate colorectal problems—including cancer, which, if it’s caught early, can be one of the easiest cancers to cure. Any bleeding from the rectal area should warrant cause for greater concern—even if it is a hemorrhoid, it needs treatment.

Abdominal pain and changes in the appearance and the habits of bowel movements can indicate a serious digestive issue. The severe pain could tell a doctor to look for colon or ovarian cancer. The same symptoms can also lead to a diagnosis of diverticulitis or irritable bowel syndrome.  With diverticulitis, small pouches that bulge outward in your colon can get infected, which sometimes need surgery. Irritable bowel syndrome is also painful, but researchers are still not completely sure of its cause. According to WebMD, it does not lead to colon cancer.

Are you out of breath when you bring in groceries or carry baskets of laundry? Nothing really heavy, just cumbersome, and you feel you need to sit rather than continue with the task? Feeling some chest pain or tightening is nothing to pass off. Heart disease is the nation’s number one killer and women are not immune to that statistic. The chest discomfort may be mistaken for gas or heartburn, acid reflux or burping. For men, the feeling can be more distinct, but women’s symptoms are subtle, according to online information from lifescript.com. Heart palpitations can be brought on by stress, but what we learn from a Lifescript column is if they are persistent and left untreated, the syndrome could trigger an irregular heartbeat, which can raise the risk of stroke if it’s not treated. Risk factors include a waist size of 35 inches or more, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or smoking. The risk of atrial fibrillation (AF) can also be classed from shortness of breath. That’s when rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart’s two upper chambers to beat fast and blood does not completely pump into the lower chambers. That means the two chambers, upper and lower, don’t work together. The AF risk gets greater with age.  Shortness of breath can also be a sign of pneumonia, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer or a blood clot.

A sore that won’t heal or a change in a mole is certainly cause for concern and can indicate melanoma (skin cancer). To investigate further, follow the ABCD method recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society: A. the spot is asymmetrical in shape; B. borders are uneven; C. color has changed D. diameter has changed.

Watch for persistent, chronic joint pain, which can signal a blood clot and monitor swelling in both legs can indicate kidney or liver disease.

Most breast lumps are non cancerous, but monthly self examination is one of three critical steps to detect breast cancer at an early stage and to become familiar with how your breast feels so that you can determine if there are any changes. Cancerous lumps can feel like small rocks; noncancerous lumps are tender and change with menstrual cycles. It’s important beginning at age 40 to start getting mammograms, the low dose X-ray of the breast to pick up the presence of lumps. If there is a family history of breast cancer, most doctors recommend mammograms at an earlier age. Yearly physician checkups are also recommended.

Ladies, it’s easy to not pay attention to small signs—women consistently are more concerned with taking care of others first. But if there is any incentive to making sure you are okay, just think, you can’t take care of the family if you aren’t healthy yourself.

Be well,


Reach DCP health writer Marsha Bonhart at MarshaBonhart@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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