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21 Symptoms That Should Raise Alarms, Say Doctors

Spot them before it’s too late.

You think of dangerous diseases like the bogeymen in a horror movie—persistent, unrelenting and scary enough to put on a movie poster (coming soon to theaters near you: The Big C!) However, there are also not-so-obvious signals our bodies may provide that many people tend to miss or even brush off—and some of them could be seriously life-threatening. "In many cases, elongated symptoms without action can lead to serious dangers to your health," David Greuner, MD, NYC Surgical Associates, tells Eat This, Not That! Health. Here are 25 dangerous health symptoms you can easily miss—and why you need to look out for them. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.


Sudden Fatigue

Tired woman lying in bed can't sleep late at night with insomnia

When most people think about a heart attack, the first symptom that comes to mind is heart pain. However, Michelle C. Reed, DO, points out that for many people—especially women—the symptoms can be much more subtle.  If you are feeling unusually tired all of a sudden, it could be more than just a lack of sleep. "A lot of times, women do not have the crushing pain in the chest, sweating, dizziness and nausea," she explains. "It can start as fatigue and feeling tired."

The Rx: If you're a female and feel this way, contact your doctor.


Clumsy Hands

Sleepy man wearing shirt, preparing for work in morning, unhappy with appearance

If you are progressively having difficulty with fine movements—such as writing or buttoning up your shirt—it may be an early sign of cervical myelopathy, a condition that stems from the neck and affects the nerves down the rest of your body. "Symptoms can progress to stiff legs, difficulty walking, sensory loss, and more," explains Dr. Thanu Jey, DC, Clinic Director at Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic

The Rx: In order to stop further progression, he suggests getting assessed immediately.



woman with throat pain

Hoarseness or impaired voice production is a very common symptom that many people tend to put up with for a long time—but you shouldn't, warns Michael Lerner, MD, a Yale Medicine laryngologist. "Hoarseness, also called dysphonia, is often dismissed as just laryngitis, but it can be a sign of something more serious," he explains. "Excessive or forceful voice use from singing or cheering too loudly at a game can lead to vocal cord injury in the form of a broken blood vessel in the larynx or even vocal cord growths, such as polyps or nodules." More serious still, hoarseness can sometimes occur due to the presence of cancerous growths on the vocal cords themselves or elsewhere within the throat. Since the vocal cords are relatively concealed within the larynx or "voice box" in the center of one's neck, they cannot be easily examined without specialized equipment. 

The Rx: If you experience hoarseness for more than four weeks, be sure to see an ear, nose & throat doctor or a laryngologist who can evaluate you and perform a laryngoscopy. 


Restlessness, Irritability and Confusion

Worried businesswoman sitting on couch

If you or someone you know is suddenly feeling restless and showing signs of irritability or confusion, it can be due to low blood sugar levels. "Your body relies on these sugars, or glucose, for energy," says Jocelyn Nadua, RPN, and Care Coordinator at C-Care Health Services. "When glucose levels are low, your brain's ability to send neurotransmitters are affected, therefore inhibiting movement, communication, and cognition." 

The Rx: Before you call your doctor, try and get some sugars in your system to rule out low blood sugar. 



woman suffering from chest pain while sitting at home

Heartburn may be due to something you ate or drank—but it could be something more, warns Dr. Greuner. "One of the most common symptoms that gets overlooked frequently is chest or heartburn," he reveals. "Many brush this off as a dietary reaction, but if it is lasting weeks at a time it is vital to start taking antacids on a daily basis and speak to your doctor." 

The Rx: Worst case scenario? It could be a symptom of stomach or esophagus cancer. Call your doc if it lasts weeks.



Thigh pain or muscle twitching or muscle cramp.

Never, ever ignore inflammation, urges Talia Segal Fidler, MS, HHC, AADP, nutritionist at The Lodge at Woodloch, as it is the root cause for most health conditions. "From food allergies to autoimmune condition, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's, to name a few," she points out. 

The Rx: She encourages you to find the root cause of the inflammation and treat it, "hopefully naturally, by changing eating habits and lifestyle, before taking medications that may just cover up the condition without going to the root cause of it."


Chronic Stress And Insomnia

hispanic woman at home bedroom lying in bed late at night trying to sleep suffering insomnia sleeping disorder or scared on nightmares looking sad worried and stressed

Many people opt to brush off chronic stress and insomnia as just a part of life. However Fidler warns that that a lack of a good night sleep or incessant stress and anxiety over a prolonged period of time may lead to many diseases.

The Rx: Being "stressed out" all the time doesn't have to be part of life. In fact, it could end yours. Address your stressors and eliminate them with therapy, meditation and better sleep hygiene.

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Acid Reflux

sick man with acid reflux

Many people aren't exactly sure what acid reflux is, and may brush off the sensation of a slight sore throat or raspy voice. "Many people that have acid reflux find ways to minimize the symptoms and tend to ignore it," points out Filder, who urges the importance of finding the reason behind the cause. 

The Rx: "There are many ways to avoid medicines and treat/minimize acid reflux such as eating sparingly and smaller meals (instead of three large meals per day), avoiding certain foods like dairy, greasy foods, spicy foods, tomatoes/onions/garlic, etc.," she explains. Also, don't eat before bed in order to allow your body time to digest. "The important part is not rushing to mask the problem!" 


Loss of Balance

Woman assisting an injured man on the running track at garden

Every four minutes, another person dies of a stroke, warns Michael F. Stiefel, MD, Ph.D., Neurosurgeon, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Neurosciences Institute. This makes knowing the symptoms—which can easily be overlooked—absolutely crucial. 

The Rx: He offers the acronym BE FAST as a great way to remember them. 

  • Balance. The first, is if you are suddenly unable to hold your balance. 
  • Eyes/Loss of Vision. The second letter of BE FAST stands for eyes. "Have you suddenly lost vision in one or both eyes?" Dr. Stiefel asks. If so, you should have yourself checked out immediately. 
  • Face/Drooping Face. The third letter stands for face. "If your face suddenly feels numb or starts to droop, that is a sign you could be having a stroke," maintains Dr. Stiefel. 
  • Arm Weakness. Are your arms or legs suddenly too weak to lift? If so, you might be experiencing the 'A' symptom of a stroke, warns Dr. Stiefel.
  • Speech. One of the more common signs you are having a stroke is slurred speech, says Dr. Stiefel. If you are experiencing this or any of the above symptoms, that brings us to:
  • 'T'—time to call an ambulance! 

Neck, Jaw, And Throat Pain

Man holding sore neck while using notebook

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of women in the United States. However, according to Sanjay Shetty, MD, chairman of the division of Cardiology, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, many women still don't know the signs of heart disease. And in several cases, the symptoms are silent. 

The Rx: In addition to any unusual pain you may be experiencing, including heavy or sharp chest pains or back pain, neck, jaw or throat pain can be more subtle symptoms that something is wrong. Feeling those? Call your doctor.


Shortness Of Breath

Woman having breath difficulties in the living room - Image

Unless you just ran a mile, if you are randomly experiencing shortness of breath you should be having a heart attack or heart failure, says Dr. Shetty.  

The Rx: "If you suddenly feel a wave of anxiety or panic, shortness of breath, palpitations or dizziness, you should call 911 immediately," she urges. In addition to heart problems, shortness of breath may indicate lung issues, as well, she also points out. 


Itchy Or Red Breasts And Nipples

man with both hands on breast

While lumps in the breast are often a key indicator of breast cancer, there are other subtler signs to be on the lookout for—for both men and women. "Early symptoms include changes in the appearance of nipples, irritated or itchy breasts, swelling, redness, changes in color, nipple discharge and, of course, lumps," says Magesh Sundaram, MD, medical director of surgical oncology, AtlantiCare. 

The Rx: You or your partner can look for yourself—but see a doctor if you are concerned.


Sudden Weight Loss

weight loss measuring

If you suddenly lose weight without even trying, there could be something wrong. "For many people, weight fluctuations don't mean much. For others, sudden or unexplained weight loss may be a sign of cancer," points out  Dr. Sundaram. Cancers known for causing unexplained weight loss include lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, and ovarian cancer.

The Rx: See your doctor if you experience unexpected weight loss.



woman worrying about her skin

Notice an increase in unexplainable bruises lately? Well, that might actually mean something serious. "Bruising can sometimes indicate the presence of a cancer such as leukemia," says Dr. Sundaram. 

The Rx: Your doctor may recommend you see an oncologist.

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Sudden Anxiety

sad woman near window thinking

The top symptoms of heart attack in women are not chest pain, reminds Rachel Franklin, MD, Medical Director, OU Physicians Family Medicine in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They are actually are shortness of breath and anxiety. 

The Rx: "Waiting to seek care until you have chest pain can delay treatment, putting your life and health in danger," she says. Talk to a therapist or health professional.


Unexplained Fever

woman is looking at the thermometer. She has fever

Do you have a fever all of a sudden, but no other symptoms of the flu? According to Dr. Franklin, unexplained fevers about 100.5 for more than a few days can be the result of autoimmune diseases or even cancer.  

The Rx: This is your body trying to tell you something. See the doctor if you have a persistent fever.

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Dry Skin And Lips

woman applying daily skin care lotion, moisturizer cream, on her elbow. Rough and dry skin

If your skin and lips are feeling incredibly dry, it is likely you aren't consuming enough fluids. "When you are dehydrated, your body works to pull water from various parts of the body, like the lips and the skin, in order to hydrate the cells," Dr. Alain Michon, MD, Medical Director at Ottawa Skin Clinic, points out. 

The Rx: To remedy this, you must replenish moisture levels to the body and hydrate your cells. "To start, drink lots of water, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and use a medical-grade moisturizer with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and essential vitamins," he suggests. "Hyaluronic acid retains over 1,000 times its weight in water, making it a great moisturizer." Also, to maintain the water and replenish at the cellular level, consider adding a bit of lemon and salt to your water for electrolytes.


Changes in Moles

dermatologist examining mole on back of male patient in clinic

Another health symptom that is often missed or even just overlooked, according to Dr. Michon, is moles changing colors, bleeding, or growing. "These symptoms are actually signs of skin neoplasm, which can, in fact, be cancerous," he points out. 

The Rx: If you notice one of these symptoms happening to your mole, do not hesitate to visit your doctor right away. 


Jaw Pain

touching her face with expression of horrible suffer from health problem and aching tooth

Most people think of chest and arm pain as the first signs of a heart attack, but jaw pain is one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack, according to Charles Sutera, DMD, FAGD.

The Rx: If this strikes, see your doctor or dentist.


Ear Pain

woman worrying about her skin

Many people go to the doctor with ear pain, thinking they have some sort of an ear infection. However, after examination, they are referred to their dentist. "The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) of your jaw is only one centimeter from the ear; often jaw dysfunction will create ear pain," points out Dr. Sutera. Additionally, the lower wisdom teeth can refer pain back to the area of the ear.

The Rx: See an ENT first.

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Man at home having a headache in front of laptop

Headaches are one of life's common ailments, any many people think very little of them. However, they can signify other health issues and even dental trouble. "Many people suffer from headaches for years without successful treatment," says Dr. Sutera. One of the most common sources of headaches is TMJ dysfunction—a condition that affects the joints of the jaw, but also affects the muscles of the head. "Often people are surprised to find that the severity and frequency of their headaches are greatly reduced when TMJ dysfunction is treated," he says. 

The Rx: If your doctor can't crack your headaches, see a dentist. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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