7 Health Symptoms That a Woman Should Never Ignore

An ache here or a sleepless night there aren’t usually worrisome enough for a woman to book a doctor’s appointment. On the other hand, certain health symptoms or persistent problems can be a sign something is really wrong. You never want to find yourself in a position where you put off something serious for too long, so pay attention to what’s going on with your body. If find yourself experiencing any one of these seven symptoms, get it checked out.

1. Sudden, extreme weight gain

Woman Adjusting Weight Scale

Pay attention to extreme weight fluctuations. | iStock.com

A sudden surge in the number you see on the scale can usually be explained by getting too lax about your diet. But even a week or two of indulging shouldn’t make a drastic difference. After all, one often-cited study found most adults only gained about one pound during the holiday eat-athon. If you find your weight keeps climbing and climbing despite no real changes in eating or exercise habits, something’s probably off.

Surprisingly, medication is a big source of unexplained weight gain, particularly anti-depressants. The frustrating thing is no one seems to be able to explain why these drugs lead to excess poundage. One large study published in JAMA Psychiatry sought to figure out the weight problem using records from more than 22,000 adults, but the only real takeaway was that it’s complicated. If your medication is causing problems, your doctor may be able to recommend a new prescription that works better for you.

A number of more serious conditions can also explain sudden weight gain. Though many are quick to blame an underactive thyroid, weight gain alone rarely leads to this diagnosis. For some women, the problem is caused by a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome where your body’s hormones are out of balance. Shape reports, while difficult, it is possible to drop pounds with this condition.

In some extreme cases, weight gain is due to a tumor located in the adrenal glands, called Cushing’s syndrome. Before you leap to any conclusions, know it’s rare. According to Prevention, it only affects about one in every 15 million adults per year. But if you also notice extreme weight accumulation around your midsection and noticeable stretch marks, you’ll need to run some tests.

2. Changes in breasts

Woman examining her breasts

Look for more than just lumps. | iStock.com

Notice we didn’t specify lumps. While most women think a bump is the only cause for concern, any changes in your breasts can be a sign of cancer. According to Everyday Health, bloody discharges from your nipples and persistent rashes can also signal breast cancer. Also keep in mind not all tumors are cancerous. You’ll need to get a biopsy to know for sure.

And don’t go into an immediate panic if you do feel something. WebMD explains many women feel tenderness and a general lumpiness while menstruating. If you continue to notice something that seems unusually long after your period ends, schedule an appointment to see your doc.

3. Sharp stomach pain

woman at work in pain

Stomach pain can indicate something serious. | Thinkstock

Remember the pilot episode of Step by Step where Al’s dad thought she was faking stomach pain to get out of school only to find out later she had appendicitis? A lot of women brush off stomach pain just as easily, which runs the risk of a burst appendix. Women’s Health says the pain may also be due to an ovarian cyst. In both cases, you’ll likely need surgery.

Before you run to the emergency room in a panic, do your best to analyze your specific pain, because it may just be a sign of constipation. For appendicitis, the discomfort occurs in the lower-right portion of your abdomen. For both conditions, the pain usually intensifies as well.

4. Painful urination

focus on a toilet in the bathroom

Urinating should never be painful. | iStock.com

A burning or stinging sensation when you urinate can be a sign of a vaginal infection, but it’s usually a urinary tract infection. This condition is much more common for women than men simply because of anatomy. Medscape explains a woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s, so bacteria can work its way in more easily. Though UTIs are usually easy to treat, you do want to act as soon as possible to avoid causing damage to your kidneys.

In some cases, the pain may be due to irritation. This can be caused by sex or even scented products that may not be delicate enough for your skin.

5. Bizarre discharges

female doctor writing notes while talking to a patient

Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. | iStock.com

The word bizarre is important here because regularly finding your underwear with spots from vaginal discharge just means your body is cleaning itself normally. Mayo Clinic says you don’t need to be worried unless you notice itching, off colors, foul odors, or extremely heavy discharges. These could indicate a sexually transmitted infection, a yeast infection, or an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria. No matter the reason, you’ll want to schedule a pelvic exam to make sure you get proper treatment.

6. Chest discomfort or shortness of breath

woman clutching her chest while walking outside

Chest discomfort can indicate something serious. | iStock.com

Women who feel winded or notice an unusual sensation in their chest often don’t realize they’re having a heart attack. It sounds strange, but the American Heart Association says women can experience these more subdued symptoms while men will typically have more overt pain or tightness in their chests. It sounds extreme, but you really should call 911. Heart disease remains the number one killer of women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so it’s better to be on the safe side.

7. New or irregular moles

Beautiful woman in a bathrobe applying skin moisturizer

Pay attention to moles. | iStock.com/Dejan_Dundjerski

Most people have plenty of moles, which are perfectly harmless. If you notice new moles cropping up later in life or changes in the way they appear, though, it’s time to visit the dermatologist. The American Cancer Society explains changes in shape, size, and color can all indicate melanoma. Of course, the only way you’ll notice such changes is if you keep an eye out in the first place. Just like with a self breast exam, you should regularly check out your skin.

Surprisingly, irregular moles may not actually mean much. Many people have them and they’re often harmless. It used to be common practice to have any atypical ones removed, but not all dermatologists are so quick to make this call. You’ll want to chat with him or her about if you have a family history of skin cancer and do some biopsies before making a decision. The Skin Cancer Foundation says frequent monitoring is often a good option.

Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec