Women’s Health — Common Problems and Symptoms not to Ignore

Women’s Health

Conditions more common in women, and

Top Symptoms Women Should Not Ignore


Dr. Zach

May 2018


The good news:

Women live longer — life expectancy 84 for women, 80 for men

Women are more likely to see the doctor and get symptoms checked out


More common in women:

Gynecological and pregnancy issues (obviously)

Urinary tract infections

Urinary incontinence

Women are more likely to die from a heart attack

Depression and anxiety


STI effects (such as infertility) – more often asymptomatic in women

Stroke (extra risk factors — estrogen, being pregnant)

Blood clots (extra risk factors — estrogen, being pregnant)

Autoimmune disorders such as Lupus



Medical Symptoms Women Shouldn’t Ignore

Women are usually better than men at taking care of themselves and checking in with the doctor.  But some may neglect themselves when they are busy at work and at home. Remember you have to be well to take care of others, and paying attention to your symptoms may mean picking up an illness early, when it’s easy to treat or cure.


Symptoms Women Should Not Ignore

1. Fatigue and Tiredness

Even with an overwhelming number of responsibilities to take care of, exhaustion and tiredness is something a woman just shouldn’t ignore.

If you get tired sometimes due to a busy schedule and feel energetic again after proper rest, then it is not a big deal.  Constant fatigue could also be a sign of a medical problem. There are several medical conditions linked to fatigue, including depression, liver failure, anemia, cancer, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, thyroid disease, sleep apnea and diabetes.

A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology indicates that fatigue is more predominant in women than men.

If you frequently feel fatigued, a visit to your doctor can help pinpoint the cause.


A constant feeling of tiredness could be a sign of a medical problem. Problems that can cause fatigue include:

  • depression
  • liver failure
  • anemia
  • cancer
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • kidney failure
  • cardiovascular disease
  • thyroid disease
  • sleep apnea
  • diabetes


2. New or Changing Moles

Be it men or women, everyone has moles on their skin. On average, most people have at least 10 moles and they can appear anywhere on the body. Women in particular should keep a close eye on their moles, as changes in moles can be associated with melanoma.

Women should be aware of the ABCDE’s of melanoma, which is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation and American Academy of Dermatology to help detect a problem.

It provides an easy way to remember what to look for when checking the moles on your body. Take note of moles that have:

A – an asymmetrical shape

B – uneven borders

C – changed in color — black/blue, not uniform

D – changed in diameter — >6mm

E – evolved over time, increasing in size or bleeding.

You also should not disregard a new spot if you get one. These are all reasons to have a mole evaluated by a specialist.

Men get more skin cancer (except melanoma<40) because more time in sun, don’t protect themselves

3. Breast Lumps

Any kind of redness, swelling or lump in one or both of your breasts may signal breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass.

While a painless, hard lump with irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, even a tender, soft or rounded lump that is painful can be cancerous.

Along with lumps, swelling or discoloration (purple or red spots) may be signs of inflammatory breast cancer.

Apart from cancer, breast lumps and other problems can be due to hormonal changes in the body, a breast infection or fat necrosis (damaged tissue). Hence, any kind of lump, swelling or pain in the breast needs to be checked by a doctor.

Recommendation:  as of 50, get a mammogram every 2 to 3 years to detect signs of breast cancer early.

4. Chest Pain or Discomfort

Any kind of chest pain or discomfort should never be taken lightly as it can indicate heart disease, one of the main causes of death in women.

Even though cardiovascular disease accounts for 43 percent of all female deaths in the United States, women still ignore chest pain or attribute it to heartburn or indigestion. This contributes to late diagnosis of heart disease.

Women are often diagnosed with coronary artery disease at a much older age than men. Prior to menopause, the female hormone estrogen helps maintain adequate levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is important for cardiovascular health.

But, after menopause, the ovaries stop making estrogen. Thus, women become more prone to heart disease after menopause, due to the lower estrogen level in the body.

Along with chest pain, if you experience weakness, hot flashes, shortness of breath, cold sweats and pain in the left arm or shoulder, immediately see a doctor.


5. Unusual Shortness of Breath

Walking up flights of stairs or a steep hill leaves many people winded. However, being short of breath after only light activity could be an early sign of a serious lung or heart problem. It is important to discuss any new shortness of breath with a doctor. Shortness of breath is also called dyspnea.

One potential cause of dyspnea is coronary ischemia. Coronary ischemia is a lack of blood flow in the heart muscle. It is caused by a partial or complete arterial blockage. A complete arterial blockage may also cause a heart attack.

Get to an emergency room as soon as you can if you have dyspnea and begin to experience other symptoms, such as:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea
  • Lightheadedness

Other serious causes of shortness of breath, in addition to heart:  pulmonary emoblism (blood clot in lungs), pneumothorax (collapsed lung), asthma, anemia, pneumonia


6. Vaginal Bleeding after Menopause

Vaginal bleeding of any kind after menopause is never normal. It may be harmless, but it can be an early indicator of cancer, including endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma as well as cancer of the cervix or vagina.

Other prominent causes of postmenopausal vaginal bleeding include thinning of the tissue lining the uterus, uterine fibroids and polyps, infection of the uterine lining, pelvic trauma and endometrial hyperplasia.

The cause of your postmenopausal bleeding may be entirely harmless. However, don’t be embarrassed to bring it up to your doctor, as sometimes it can be very serious and need timely assessment.

In fact, any kind of changes in your monthly cycle, such as very heavy bleeding, bleeding that lasts longer than normal and bleeding that occurs after sex or between periods, should be reported to your doctor.


7. Unexplained Weight Loss


The next time you get on the scale and notice a slight variation in your weight, do not panic. Your body weight can fluctuate anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds per day on average, and this is very normal.

However, when weight fluctuation is very noticeable and occurs without making any changes in your diet and daily routine, be alert. There may be something wrong.

Unexplained and sudden weight loss of 10 pounds or more can be a sign of problems like cancer (most commonly linked to cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus and lungs), celiac disease, diabetes, heart disease, thyroid disorder, depression, stress, digestive problems, nutritional deficiencies, and fluid retention.

Possible causes of unexplained weight loss include:

  • cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • thyroid disease


8. New or severe headache


It is true that women are more prone to headaches and migraines than men. The occasional headache after a stressful day is understandable, but sudden and persistent headaches can indicate certain health problems.

A severe headache is one of the signs of a stroke, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. In fact, a headache can also be an early warning sign of other serious health issues like high blood pressure.


9. Abdominal pain


According to a 2007 report released by the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, bloating, as well as pelvic or abdominal pain and difficulty eating are some early symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Gas and bloating can also signal inflammatory bowel syndrome, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulitis, which needs to be diagnosed and treated timely to reduce the need for surgery.

At times, abdominal pain can even signal an appendicitis, a stomach ulcer or a gallbladder problem.


  1. Change in bowel habit, Black or bloody stools


Consult your doctor if you are experiencing severe or frequent abdominal discomfort or any persistent change in bowel habits, such as mild diarrhea lasting a week, constipation that lasts more than a couple of weeks, sudden urges to have a bowel movement, bloody diarrhea and black or tarry-colored stools.

11. Leg Swelling


Pregnancy is a common factor related to fluid buildup and swelling in the legs.

However, there are many other underlying health conditions that can cause leg swelling, including peripheral edema, chronic kidney disease, cirrhosis, deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) Achilles tendon rupture, knee bursitis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and a sprained ankle.

Swelling in one leg can mean a blood clot, which can be dangerous if left untreated. A blood clot can travel through your veins up to your lungs, which can be life threatening.

If you experience leg swelling without any known reason, consult your physician. Along with swelling, redness or blistering on the legs needs to be checked by a doctor.

12. Chest or Facial Hair

Facial hair growth isn’t just a cosmetic concern. Growth of hair on the chest or face is usually caused by elevated levels of androgens (male hormones). This may be a symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. Other symptoms associated with PCOS include:

  • adult acne
  • obesity
  • irregular periods
  • high blood pressure

13. Chronic Stomach Problems

Occasional stomach problems shouldn’t be a major cause of concern. However chronic stomach problems could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms of IBS include:

  • abdominal pain and cramps
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

IBS is more common in women than men. It’s easy to ignore or dismiss the symptoms as an upset stomach or a bad meal. You should see a doctor if these symptoms recur regularly. IBS is treatable with changes in diet, lifestyle, and stress management. Medication may also help with symptoms.

Stomach symptoms can sometimes be a sign of other serious health problems. Talk to your doctor if you have recurrent problems with your digestive system.


  1. Heart Palpitations

Heart palpitations are often related to stress. But if they’re persistent, they may signal atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat.


Without treatment, atrial fibrillation raises your risk of a stroke, especially if you have these other heart disease risk factors:


What you should do: If you experience heart palpitations or any unusual heartbeat signals, see a doctor.