Women Don’t Ignore These 5 Symptoms

Steffanie Campbell, M.D., F.A.C.P., Associate Chief of Internal Medicine, Kelsey-Seybold Clinic

It’s well known that women tend to care more about the healthcare needs of those around them and often put their own health on the back burner. It’s essential that women of all ages meet and develop a relationship with a primary care doctor and an OB/GYN and make an appointment when feeling under the weather. But diligence isn’t just checking the boxes for yearly physicals and labs; it’s also paying attention to your body and recognizing when something isn’t quite right.

Irregular Vaginal Bleeding

Women accept that weird things are going to happen to them “down there,” and some may shrug off irregular vaginal bleeding as “normal.” Irregular bleeding warrants a discussion with your primary care doctor or OG/GYN because it could be a symptom of gynecological cancers, endocrine system (hormonal) issues, or infections.

Nipple Discharge

As with irregular vaginal bleeding, nipple discharge could be “normal” for you, but only a physician can confirm whether it might be a cause for concern. If you are experiencing nipple discharge and not currently pregnant or post-natal, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to rule out more serious issues, including breast cancer, ductal blockages, and hormone issues. Nipple discharge includes any fluid that seeps out of a breast nipple.

Skin Darkening Around the Neck or Any Body Fold

Acanthosis nigricans is a warning sign that everybody should pay attention to. It appears as a skin discoloration in areas of the body that fold, like the neck, armpits, and groin area. The skin changes appear over time and result in a velvety texture and discoloration. While acanthosis nigricans can indicate hormonal disorders and some cancers, the most common cause is insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, a serious but treatable condition that affects 1 in 9 adult women living in the United States (reference: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/diabetes).

Women Experiencing Male Pattern Hair Loss

If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic event, you might remember experiencing some significant hair loss in the months afterward. But this kind of hair loss is temporary. For women who are experiencing ongoing issues with hair loss, including thinning at the top or on the crown of the head, as well as a change in texture, this could be a symptom of an underlying cause like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), insulin resistance, or adrenal gland issues. Women with PCOS may need to be monitored more closely because they are at higher risk of developing insulin resistance, and women who are trying to conceive but experiencing infertility resulting from the PCOS should seek additional follow-up care.

Headaches in the Morning

Do you wake up with a dull headache every morning? Sleep apnea could be the cause. Low oxygen levels while sleeping can widen the blood vessels and cause headaches. Excessive daytime drowsiness is another key symptom of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart problems, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and liver problems.

An annual physical is the perfect opportunity to sit down with your healthcare provider and talk through your health concerns, including any of the seemingly bizarre symptoms that the female anatomy might throw your way. Develop a relationship with your primary care doctor. We’re here to help you stay well.