Many of us tend to put our needs aside so we can give our best as mums, wives, caregivers, bosses and daughters. But where your health is concerned, suffering in silence (or worse, wearing your symptoms like a badge of honour) isn’t such a good idea.
Some health problems might be signs of something more serious, and turning a blind eye to them could prove detrimental down the road. If you notice any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them or pass them off as insignificant – see your doctor right away.
We ask two Singaporean experts – general practitioner Dr Shiv Gill and Dr Choo Chee Yong, a consultant at the Changi General Hospital’s Department of Anaesthesia – for the unexplained and persistent health problems to watch out for.
You could be placing your health at risk when you ignore
11 of these persistent symptoms. Image: Corbis
1. ABNORMAL BLEEDING
Most likely cause: Hormonal imbalance. In the majority of cases, bleeding in between periods, or dysfunctional uterine bleeding, is due to a hormonal imbalance, says Dr Shiv Gill. The bleeding usually goes away on its own, otherwise your doctor may prescribe the Pill to correct this.
Don’t ignore it because: The bleeding could be a sign of tumours, cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, or hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, says Dr Gill. In some cases, it could be an ectopic pregnancy or even a spontaneous abortion.
2. CHRONIC STOMACH PAIN
Most likely cause: Lactose intolerance, gluten or other food allergies, or reflux. The food allergies listed above are one of the many possible causes for chronic stomach pain. It could also be Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is typically caused by stress or a lack of fibre.
Don’t ignore it because: Even if there’s no change in your bowel habits, see your doctor so you can rule out gastritis. If left untreated, gastritis can cause stomach ulcers; and when these ulcers bleed, they can be life threatening.
3. PERSISTENT BACK PAIN
Most likely cause: Degenerative changes in the spine. These include intervertebral disc problems, nerve compression, a narrowing of the spinal canal, and osteoporotic fractures. These are all benign cases, but can result in significant functional impairment and a poorer quality of life. Poor posture, obesity, repeated stress on the spine and a sedentary lifestyle can further aggravate back pain.
Don’t ignore it because: In rare cases, the pain could be due to infection, inflammation or tumour of the spine. And, adds Dr Choo, it could be a warning sign for potentially life threatening conditions including kidney infection, pancreatic inflammation, blood vessel aneurysm and cancer.
4. UNEXPLAINED SKIN LUMPS
Most likely cause: Sebaceous cysts. Such cysts are usually benign, says Dr Gill. It could also be lipomas – benign tumours composed of adipose tissue.
Don’t ignore it because: In extremely rare cases, it could be liposarcoma, a malignant tumour which begins in deep soft tissue, such as the thigh, and can grow very large.
5. UNEXPLAINED RASHES
Most likely cause: Eczema or skin allergies. These generally fade away after a while but it is still a good idea to have a doctor diagnose the cause of such allergies, especially if it keeps returning.
Don’t ignore it: becausel Dr Gill says that if the rash is flat and purplish, and occurs on the knuckles or the joints of the fingers, it could be dermatomyositis, a sign of gastrointestinal cancer, so do get such a rash checked right away.
6. BREATHING DIFFICULTIES
Most likely cause: Asthma or anxiety. It could be asthma if you have trouble breathing out, or anxiety, if you have trouble breathing in.
Don’t ignore it because: It could be an infection or a foreign body in your chest, or, it could be a benign or malignant tumour, says Dr Gill, so it’s best to get an X-ray to rule these out. If you have breathing difficulties when lying down, it could be a sign of heart failure, in which case you must get immediate medical attention.
7. DISCOMFORT WHEN PASSING MOTION
Most likely cause: anxiety, piles, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or anal fissures. The pain, explains Dr Gill, could be from haemorrhoids/piles, IBS, a muscle spasm caused by anxiety, or anal fissures caused by hard stools.
Don’t ignore it because: If the pain is accompanied by a change in bowel habits – either frequency or consistency – and you notice blood in your stools, it might be a sign of a tumour, says Dr Gill.
8. HEADACHES OR MIGRAINES
Most likely cause: Tension headaches. Tension headaches are common, says Dr Gill. If you have a family history of migraines, it’s likely a genetic problem. Certain foods like alcohol, coffee and chocolate, which contain tyramine that dilates the blood vessels, can also induce headaches.
Don’t ignore it because: Your doctor should exclude an aneurysm, says Dr Gill. If your headache is accompanied by nausea when you wake up, and gets better as the day progresses, it could be a sign of a brain tumour. A CT scan should be able to determine if the headache is indeed due to a tumour.
9. CHRONIC FATIGUE
Most likely cause: Viral infection. If you’ve recently suffered a viral infection, the fatigue could be due to this. And this kind of fatigue can take up to six months to pass, Dr Gill explains.
Don’t ignore it because: The fatigue could be due to anaemia. It could also be a sign of hypothyroidism, or renal problems that can lead to renal failure.
10. UNUSUAL VAGINAL DISCHARGE
Most likely cause: sexually transmitted infection, candida or bacterial vaginosis. If your discharge is smelly, blood-stained or coloured, or is accompanied by an itch, you could be suffering from a sexually transmitted infection, candida or bacterial vaginosis. It could also be an infection from a retained tampon, says Dr Gill.
Don’t ignore it because: In postmenopausal women, the unusual discharge could be a symptom of endometrial cancer.
11. MOMENTARY LOSS OF SENSATION/ PHYSICAL NUMBNESS
Most likely cause: poor blood circulation or injury to a nerve. You experienced weakness or numbness in one side of your body – it lasted less than an hour, but you thought nothing of it. You could have been standing still for too long or you’d remained in the same posture for quite a while.
Don’t ignore it because: This might have been a transient ischaemic attack, says Dr Gill, a minor stroke that warns of an impending stroke within days, weeks or months. See your doctor quickly – a CT scan will reveal if a minor stroke did indeed occur.
Dr Shiv Gill is a general practitioner at My Health Partners Medical Clinic. The clinic is located at 25D Lorong Liput, (S)277735; opening hours Mondays to Fridays 9.00am – 4.30pm and 9.00am -1.00pm on Saturdays, closed on Sundays & certain Public Holidays. The clinic’s evening hours are: Mondays & Wednesdays from 7.00pm – 9.00pm. Call 6469 9116 or visit the clinic’s website for more information.
Dr Choo Chee Yong is a consultant at the Department of Anaesthesia, Changi General Hospital. Find out more about the medical services offered by the department at its website. To arrange for an appointment, call 6321 4377.
This article was originally published in SimplyHer June 2011.
- abnormal bleeding
- back pain
- bacterial vaginosis
- brain tumour
- breathing difficulties
- Changi General Hospital
- chronic fatigue
- chronic stomach pain
- Dr Choo Chee Yong
- Dr Shiv Gill
- endometrial cancer
- frequent coughing
- frequent coughs
- irritable bowel syndrome
- medical conditions
- minor stroke
- My Health Partners Medical Clinic
- panic attack
- renal failure
- runny nose
- Sebaceous cysts
- sexually transmitted infection
- shoulder pain
- Singapore doctors
- skin lumps
- spine problems
- stomach pain
- tired all the time
- Viral infection