|Photo: Anthea Simms
Headaches, fatigue, nausea. Physical symptoms are a lot like cloud formations. Some clouds come and go without incident; others are signs of a potential storm ahead. Learning which symptoms are hints that something is amiss with our bodies and which are temporary health hiccups (like indigestion after a pizza-and-wings night with the girls) is important self-education.
Dr. Danielle Martin, a family physician with Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, says symptoms need to be taken in context. “You need to be aware of what’s normal and be aware of your baseline health,” she says. “If you have migraines and they change in nature or in their pattern, that may warrant a visit to your doctor. It’s the shift from normal, to something that is unusual, that you need to pay attention to. It’s always better to get it checked.”
Dr. Martin’s primary suggestion is to be aware of your body and your risk factors. “At the very minimum, you should have a full physical at least every two years. Normally, we’d like to see patients annually.” That’s the time to ask ques-tions (come prepared with a list) and talk about your family history and risk factors. This information helps put your symp-toms into context. Don’t hesitate to see your physician if your health changes or there’s something that bothers you. That’s always the best medicine. In the meantime, be aware of these six potential red flags to your health.
1 BREAST CHANGES.
It’s time to book an appointment if you see any changes in your breasts: lumps, pain, shifts in size or shape, skin changes (redness, dimples or puckers) and nipple discharge or distortion. Though breast-cancer death rates have been declining since the mid-1990s, breast cancer still kills one in 28 women in Canada.
2 MYSTERIOUS WEIGHT LOSS.
If you’ve been shedding the pounds and you’re not watching what you’re eating or hitting the gym more often, this could be of concern, especially if you’ve lost five percent of your weight in a month or more than 10 percent in 6–12 months. This could point to an overactive thyroid, liver disease or some types of cancer.
3 WEARY AND WEAK.
A weekend full of parties can leave you weary, but when there’s no clear reason for persistent fatigue, there may be cause for concern. It might mean just scaling back your social schedule or it may be your body telling you something is wrong. Fatigue has been linked to serious illness, such as depression, cancer and heart disease. According to a 2003 online study by the National Women’s Health Resource Center in the United States, 49 percent of women knew they were exhausted but failed to discuss it with their doctor.
FOR MORE SYMPTOMS YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE, PICK UP THE MARCH ISSUE OF FLARE.