10 Medical Symptoms Never to Ignore

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  • Man sitting on couch with chest pains

    Which health symptoms should always prompt a visit to your doctor's office, or maybe even to the emergency room? Sometimes things happen in our bodies that seem minor, and which we may be tempted to dismiss. However, some of these are health warning signs that should be evaluated by your healthcare provider, so they can be effectively treated before they turn into more serious problems. Pay attention to these medical symptoms you should never ignore.

  • 1
    Rapid weight loss
    Young Caucasian woman in apartment bedroom weighing herself on scale

    Having extra pounds melt off without even trying sounds like a dieter's dream come true. However, this can be a signal that something is going wrong in your body. If you rapidly lose 10 or more pounds for no apparent reason—no dietary change or new exercise program—your doctor needs to evaluate why. It could be a sign of physical or mental illness (such as depression, if it is accompanied by feelings of sadness or fatigue).

  • 2
    High or persistent fever
    Woman on couch under blanket looking at thermometer for fever

    Most of us get fevers from time to time, as our bodies fight infection. However, if you have an exceptionally high fever (103 degrees Fahrenheit or more) or a fever that persists for at least three days, see your doctor. Fever also can be a symptom of COVID-19, so contact your physician, especially if you have other symptoms, like a cough or headache. Night fevers, accompanied by night sweats, can be an early cancer warning sign, so report these to your doctor, too.

  • 3
    Chest pain
    High Angle View Of Woman With Chest Pain Lying On Bed

    Intense chest pain or a sense of heaviness in the chest can be a sign of a heart attack, especially if accompanied by sudden, severe left arm pain. These are classic symptoms for men. Women's heart attack symptoms may be different or subtler. While they may have chest pain, it might be intermittent. Women also are more likely to have back or jaw pain, pain in their right or left arms, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. Call 911 or get to an emergency room if you have heart attack symptoms.

  • 4
    Sudden numbness or weakness
    neck and shoulder pain, old woman suffering from neck and shoulder injury, health problem concept

    If you suddenly have difficulty moving your legs or arms, especially on one side of your body, you could be having a stroke. Other signs include facial drooping, also on one side of your body; difficulty talking; confusion; trouble seeing out of one or both of your eyes; and dizziness or loss of balance. You may also have a sudden, severe headache. These are serious health symptoms that merit immediate emergency care. Call 911.

  • 5
    Fatigue
    A tired father lies on the couch while his children play around him.

    Many of us are busy and stressed, and may be exhausted due to everyday life concerns. But if you have bone-deep fatigue that seems different from normal tiredness and doesn't get better even when you get enough sleep at night, this is a health warning sign that you need to discuss with your doctor. Fatigue can signal many serious problems, including anemia, diabetes, depression, sleep apnea, chronic fatigue syndrome, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer and others. Your doctor can help determine why you are feeling this way and what can be done to help you feel better.

  • 6
    Skin changes
    Woman examining face

    Your largest organ is your skin, and it can reflect the state of your health. If you notice your skin—especially your fingertips—has a yellow appearance, this can be a sign of jaundice, which can indicate possible liver or gallbladder problems. See your doctor if you have this symptom. Other skin changes you should never ignore include large, rapidly growing, bleeding or otherwise unusual skin lesions or lumps, as well as suspicious changes to existing moles. Contact your primary care doctor or dermatologist to check out skin symptoms as soon as possible.

  • 7
    Abdominal pain
    Unseen person with stomach or abdominal pain

    See your doctor if you have severe or persistent abdominal pain, which can indicate serious health problems, such as appendicitis, intestinal blockage, gallstones, and a host of other conditions. Other warning signs that mean it's time to see the doctor include diarrhea lasting more than three days; black, tarry stools; blood in your stool; and heartburn that persists or worsens, even after you take medication for it.

  • 8
    Unusual headaches
    Woman With Headache

    Most of us get headaches now and then, which go away either on their own or after taking an over-the-counter medication. But some headaches warrant prompt medical attention. If you have a headache along with a high fever, stiff neck, confusion, faintness, or trouble speaking or walking, you need to go to the emergency room. Also don't ignore headaches that have become more frequent or severe than normal, don't get better with medication and interfere with work, sleep or other daily activities. These should be evaluated by your doctor.

  • 9
    Shortness of breath
    gettyimages-904583764.jpg

    If you suddenly find yourself short of breath for no apparent reason—you haven't just been exercising, for example—you need immediate medical attention. Acute shortness of breath could be a sign of many conditions, ranging from COVID-19 to asthma, a clot in your lung, a collapsed lung, pneumonia, heart dysfunction, or an allergic reaction. Shortness of breath that's more long-lasting can be caused by chronic or other conditions. Either way, difficulty breathing is a medical symptom you should never ignore. Contact your doctor or seek emergency care.

  • 10
    Sadness that won't go away
    Tired looking senior man leaning on kitchen counter with sports drink

    Feelings of depression or sadness, perhaps alternating with extreme highs, are signs of mental illness and should never be ignored. If you're depressed, you likely won't feel like interacting with others, and may not feel enough energy to call a doctor. However, it's important to get help. See if a loved one can connect with a health professional for you. Other warning signs to report to a doctor: changes in eating or sleeping habits, thoughts of hurting yourself or others, delusions or hallucinations, or having excess anxiety. Seek help promptly if you have any of these.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 4
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Deciding When to See a Doctor. Familydoctor.org (American Academy of Family Physicians). https://familydoctor.org/deciding-see-doctor/
  2. Early Cancer Warning Signs: 5 Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/early-cancer-warning-signs-5-symptoms-you-shouldnt-ignore
  3. Symptoms to never ignore – even during a pandemic. UC Health. https://www.uchealth.org/today/symptoms-medical-emergencies-never-to-ignore-even-during-a-pandemic/
  4. Left arm pain: When to worry. Norton Healthcare. https://nortonhealthcare.com/news/left-arm-pain-heart-attack/
  5. 7 Health Symptoms Not to Ignore. Mercy Health. https://blog.mercy.com/health-symptoms-changes-never-ignore/
  6. Women: Don't Ignore These 3 Subtle Heart Attack Symptoms. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/women-dont-ignore-3-subtle-heart-attack-symptoms/
  7. Learn More Stroke Warning Signs and Symptoms. American Stroke Association. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/stroke-symptoms/learn-more-stroke-warning-signs-and-symptoms
  8. Deciding When to See a Doctor. Familydoctor.org (American Academy of Family Physicians). https://familydoctor.org/deciding-see-doctor/
  9. Shortness of breath. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/shortness-of-breath/basics/causes/sym-20050890
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