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Head-to-Toe Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

Older couple looking at a tablet and drinking coffee

Chest pain, shortness of breath, persistent high fever, uncontrolled bleeding and sudden severe pain are symptoms that send most people to the nearest emergency room. But some serious illness have symptoms that are less dramatic and more likely to be ignored.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, don’t wait for your next doctor’s appointment. Seek medical advice right away.

Visual Disturbances

Flashes of light in one or both eyes, blurred vision or the sudden appearance of floaters in your field of vision may be a sign of a detached retina – a condition in which the retina separates from the blood vessels that provide oxygen and nourishment. Left untreated, a detached retina can lead to permanent vision loss.

Yellowing of the Eyes

A yellowish tinge in the whites of your eyes could be an early sign of liver disease. Jaundice – yellowing of the eyes and skin – can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer.

White Spots in Your Mouth

Thickened white spots on the tongue or anywhere inside the mouth that can’t be scraped off could be an early sign of oral cancer, particularly among smokers.

Skin Changes

The appearance of your skin can provide clues to complex health issues that require immediate attention. See your primary care doctor or a dermatologist if you notice any of the following:

  • A flat or raised mole that changes in size, shape or color. It could be a sign of melanoma.
  • Raised red patches. This could be a sign of psoriasis – an immune disorder.
  • Dry, itchy skin with redness and intolerable itchiness. This could be a sign of thyroid or kidney disease.
  • Yellow bumps on the arms or legs. These can be a sign of high triglycerides or diabetes.
  • Dark smooth patches on the skin of your neck and arms. These may be a sign of diabetes.
  • A lump or bump on the eyelid that doesn’t go away. The eyelid is a common place for skin cancer to develop.

Changes in Bowel Habits

Changes in bowel habits can be caused by a range of conditions, from a temporary infection to an underlying medical disorder. Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Rectal bleeding or black, tarry stools
  • Changes in the consistency and/or color of the stool (unrelated to illness or medications you are taking)
  • Unusual frequency of bowel movements (too often or not often enough)
  • Loss of ability to control bowel movements

Swelling or Pain in the Legs

Painful or swollen legs can be a symptom of many conditions including heart failure, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and hypothyroidism.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Weight loss that isn’t due to lifestyle changes like diet and exercise can be a sign of a wide variety of health issues.

Stiffness That Doesn’t Go Away

Most of us feel a little stiff when we first get up in the morning. But persistent stiffness and slowness of movement that doesn’t get better as the day goes on could be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease.

“Everyone has the ability to be their own best advocate when it comes to their health,” says Roy Buchinsky, MD, internal medicine specialist and the director of wellness at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. “Know what’s normal for you and be on the lookout for small changes that could signal a big problem. When caught early, many serious conditions can be treated or better yet, prevented. Prevention is always the best intervention.”

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