Potentially Deadly Symptoms That You Should Never Ignore

Every year, the CDC re-evaluates the top leading causes of death in the United States. These diseases are very common, but their symptoms are often unknown by those who might be most at risk. We broke down the top four leading causes of death in the U.S. (excluding accidents), plus there three most common symptoms, so you can keep a closer eye on your health.

1. Heart disease

Human Heart Anatomy Illustration. 3D render

Heart disease should not be ignored. | iStock.com/Nerthuz

Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. It encompasses many different heart problems such as coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and heart attack. However, many of those heart problems share common symptoms. If you feel any of these symptoms or notice that they are persistent, it’s time to contact your doctor.

Next: This symptom is commonly confused with something else. 


Middle-aged businessman suffering chest pains

Angina can be mistaken for multiple ailments. | iStock.com/mheim3011

It’s extremely important to pay attention to angina because it can often be mistaken for heartburn or indigestion. Angina is any type of discomfort in your chest, including heaviness, pressure, or burning. You can also feel angina in other parts of the body like the back, neck, or jaw. It occurs because there is not enough blood flowing to a certain part of your heart.

Next: ‘My heart skipped a beat’ is not just a phrase. 


Stethoscope sitting on an red ECG printout

Don’t ignore heart palpitations. | iStock.com/RTimages

If you’ve ever felt like your heart skipped a beat or pounded harder than it should have, you’re not alone. It was probably a heart palpitation, and many people experience them at least once or twice throughout life. Typically, they’re caused by stress or exercise. However, sometimes they can signal a serious heart condition. If they’re infrequent, you’re probably fine. But if you notice they start to become more frequent or feel worse, you definitely want to consult your doctor.

Next: Breathing problems are related to heart disease, too. 

Shortness of breath

Man breathing in fresh air

Trouble breathing can also signal heart issues. | iStock.com

Shortness of breath can be a sign of quite a few things, so you might want to look for other symptoms along with this to determine what the problem could be. If you feel like you can’t catch your breath (and you didn’t just sprint a mile), it’s often a sign of an underlying medical condition. If you notice this shortness along with other signs or symptoms of heart disease, see your doctor right away.

Next: This disease is the number 2 killer in the U.S.

2. Cancer

Cancer sucks pins

Cancer can have many different symptoms. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Different types of cancer can cause very different symptoms. However, cancer often results in a loss of energy because cancer cells use up so much of the body’s energy supply. These three symptoms are associated with multiple types of cancer because they all stem from extreme loss of energy.

Next: If you can’t explain the cause of this, something may be wrong. 

Weight Loss

Healthy diet and exercise help prevent cancer

Suddenly losing weight can signal a problem. | Getty Images

According to cancer.net, as many as 40% of people battling cancer report unexplained weight loss as one of their first symptoms. If you’re sticking to your same daily routine, there should be no reason for you to lose weight. If you notice you’ve lost even a few pounds and can’t figure out why, it’s best to see your doctor out of caution.

Next: Feeling under the weather could mean something much more serious. 


Sick man with thermometer in mouth

A fever is the body’s natural response to any type of illness. | iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

The American Cancer Society lists fever as one common symptom of many types of cancer. A fever is the body’s general response to any kind of infection or illness. If your body is trying to fight something off, or there is something in your body that doesn’t belong, it will often respond with what we know as a fever. Fever is most common with cancers like leukemia or lymphoma.

Next: A loss of energy means you’re likely to experience this. 


Tired businesswoman

Constant fatigue can be a sign of cancer. | iStock.com/Poike

Being tired after a long day is normal. However, constantly feeling like you’re running on three hours of sleep even though you’re getting eight is not normal. If regular tasks throughout the day have you feeling extremely tired and lethargic, and the mere thought of exerting energy seems impossible, it’s important to see a doctor. Although fatigue can be a symptom of many types of diseases, ongoing fatigue usually does signal some sort of underlying health problem.

Next: These diseases are not treatable, but they are manageable. 

3. Lower Respiratory Diseases

3D illustration of Lungs

Lung damage should not be ignored. | iStock.com/yodiyim

There are three main diseases that encompass chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma. They all involve some level of lung damage. Those with COPD can live for a long time with proper management and medical care. Symptoms often don’t appear until after there is significant damage, but here’s what to watch out for:

Next: This symptom can be associated with a few different medical issues. 

Shortness of breath

exhausted sport woman running outdoors

Wheezing is an indication that there is an issue with your lungs. | iStock.com/OcusFocus

Wheezing or not being able to catch your breath are both symptoms of COPD because they indicate that something in the lungs is going wrong. If you constantly feel like you’re wheezing and your lungs are making noises when you breathe in and out, you should consult your doctor. Also, Shortness of breath is a common side effect of many medical problems, so consult your doctor either way if you experience this.

Next: Pressure in this area can signal a serious problem. 

Chest tightness

woman clutching her chest while walking outside

Chest tightness can feel like someone is crushing your lungs. | iStock.com

Chest tightness is exactly as it sounds. If it feels like your chest is being squeezed or crushed, it’s important to let your doctor know right away. It can also sometimes feel as if someone is sitting on your chest. Chest tightness can be indicative of a heart problem too, so if you feel any tightness, don’t brush it off.

Next: This action is sometimes more than just a habit. 

Clearing your throat

man coughing as he stands outside

Do you have to clear your throat often? | iStock.com

Excess mucus in the lungs often gives the feeling of having to clear your throat. If this is a constant occurrence, especially when you wake up in the morning, see a doctor. The overnight buildup of mucus can make it worse in the morning. Too much of that buildup may mean something is wrong with the mucus membranes in your lungs.

Next: This deadly disease is more common than most people realize. 

4. Stroke

Stroke (cerebrovascular accident)

A stroke occurs when blood flow is cut off from the brain. | IStock.com/stockdevil

A stroke happens when blood flow is cut off to any part of the brain. Brain cells lose oxygen and start to die. Without those vital brain cells, you can lose your speech, memory, or movement. It’s imperative to act quickly if you notice any signs or symptoms of a stroke. These next three symptoms are the most common.

Next: This symptom is the most common stroke symptom. 

Numbness or weakness

Man leaning with hands against wall

Feeling numb is a sign of a stroke. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Stroke symptoms tend to come on suddenly. If you notice sudden numbness or weakness in your limbs or face, get to the hospital. Typically, the numbness will only happen on one side of the body. If you can’t feel your arms or legs or have trouble using them, a stroke could be the reason.

Next: This is far worse than just ‘losing your train of thought.’


Senior Man With Adult Daughter

Suddenly being confused during conversation is a symptom of a stroke. | Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re in the middle of a conversation and suddenly are hit with confusion, it could be a sign of a stroke. According to stroke.org, confusion is often accompanied by trouble speaking. This is not the same thing as simply losing your train of thought. This confusion is forgetting what’s going on and not being able to form proper words.

Next: Impairment in this area is a sign you should see a doctor. 

Trouble with vision

Elderly woman's eye

Trouble seeing combined with other symptoms are a sign of a stroke. | Shironosovz/Getty Images

Sudden trouble seeing is cause for concern as well. According to stroke.org, blurred vision in one or both eyes, seemingly out of nowhere, can be a big sign of a stroke. Usually, you’ll have more than one stroke symptom. It might be combination of these symptoms, or dizziness, face drooping, and other symptoms.