How can you tell if your symptoms are concerning or simply routine? House Call Doctor covers 5 of the most common health symptoms that can be potentially devastating for women.
The female anatomy is quite complex. With a uterus, a cervix, ovaries, breasts, and a cocktail of hormones, there are a lot of potential medical issues that can occur.
How can a woman tell if her symptoms are concerning or routine?
Although covering every sign of a medical problem is not possible in a short podcast, I’d like to cover 5 of the most common symptoms that can be potentially ominous for women.
Symptom #1: Bleeding
Bleeding from orifices we typically aren’t supposed to bleed from is not normal. Although urinary tract infections are the most common reason for blood in urine, bladder cancer can present in the same way. And although hemorrhoids are the most common reason for rectal bleeding, colon cancer can also cause bleeding in the stool and should be ruled out.
Irregular vaginal bleeding can also be concerning. For some women, menstrual bleeding is an “annoyance” – who wants to deal with vaginal bleeding when you're on vacation, on your honeymoon, or during stressful job interviews? But having a normal regular menstrual cycle is a sign of good health. When it’s not regular, it can be a symptom of something gone wrong.
For women over the age of 35, anything that equates to more blood in any way (whether it’s more frequent periods, heavier flow, longer duration, spotting in between periods) should be addressed by your doctor right away. Although there are much more common causes of increased vaginal bleeding, endometrial cancer can also be a culprit. Endometrial cancer is often diagnosed via a quick office procedure called an “endometrial biopsy,” which is similar to a pap smear but they go in a tad deeper, past the cervix opening, to sample the lining of the uterus.
For women of any age, a sudden change in your normal cycle, whether that's increased vaginal bleeding, a cessation or skipping of periods, or an increase or decrease in frequency of periods, a visit to your doctor is necessary to rule out some other possible causes of the irregularity. These include:
- Thyroid disorder
- Pituitary adenoma (a tumor of the pituitary gland)
- Menopause or perimenopause
- Fibroids (benign growths on the uterus)
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Cervical cancer or precancer
Symptom #2: Breast Changes
Breast cancer is the top cancer diagnosed in women, but if detected early, it can be treated and cured. Screening mammograms can be helpful in diagnosing early breast cancer, but so can monthly self exams. It’s important to check yourself every month so that if a new lump appears, you'll discern it as early as possible and bring it to your doctor’s attention immediately. Make sure to also check underneath the armpits for lumps as well, since lymph nodules that drain the breasts are located there.
Similarly, if there are any nipple changes, such as nipple discharge, bleeding from the nipple, or nipple “inversion” (where it seems to “pucker” inward), you should bring them to your doctor’s attention. Any breast skin changes (such as redness, thickening of the skin, scaling, dimpling, etc.) should also be checked out, as rarely, breast cancer can cause changes on the surface of the skin.
Although other benign causes of breast changes are more common (fibroadenomas, cysts, etc.) breast changes should never be ignored.