10 symptoms you should never ignore

We all have those little niggles that we put up with, or an ache that we put down to getting older - but here are the symptoms you should always get checked

We all have those little niggles that we put up with, or an ache that we put down to getting older. However, there are some pains or other symptoms that you really should make an appointment and get checked out.

1. Pains in your legs that don't go away

What it could be: Cramp after exercise or while asleep is pretty common. But recurring or severe leg pains and cramps can be due to a blood clot or heart and circulation problems.

What it probably is: It could also be a relatively harmless, but uncomfortable condition called restless leg syndrome. It's always safest to get the right diagnosis.


2. Have you noticed any lumps or bumps you didn't have before?

What it could be: Finding a lump under your skin can be frightening and it's often tempting to ignore it in the hope it goes away, but even pain-free lumps can be cancerous.

What it probably is: Nine out of 10 are harmless cysts, boils, warts or a fatty growth called a lipoma, but it's just better to be safe than sorry.

3. If you're losing weight and never feel hungry

What it could be: If you suddenly find your weight dropping for no reason, it could be a sign of health issues including thyroid problems or a digestive complaint. If you've lost 10% of your body weight in six months, go to the doctors for further investigation.

What it probably is: The chances are you've been watching what you eat and have started doing more exercise. Don't complain!

4. When you have unexpected bleeding

What it could be: Bleeding should always be checked out, whether it's blood in your stools - which often makes them appear black or tar-like - or blood coughed up with phlegm. It's often an early sign of cancer. Heavy nosebleeds that last more than 20 minutes are another sign you shouldn't ignore as is bleeding in between periods of from your vagina after sex - this could be something like pelvic inflammatory disease.

What it probably is: Unless you remember cutting yourself on something, bleeding of any sort that you can't explain should be examined.

5. If you're permanently tired and run down

What it could be: If you feel desperately tired for more than a week, it could be an indicator that you have emotional problems you're not coping with or are depressed. Or you could have a physical problem: anything from a sleep disorder like sleep apnoea, to diabetes, ME, or even cancer. Your GP may recommend a blood test to check for other causes.

What it probably is: One in five of us complain of regular tiredness - the important thing to watch out for is if there's no obvious cause.

6. Sore, itching skin

What it could be: It could be an infection like scabies, which won't go away without treatment. Itchy skin is also a symptom of liver disorders. If you're pregnant and suffer unexplained itches, see a doctor immediately, as it could be a liver condition called cholestasis which can be dangerous to your child. What it probably is: It's more likely to be an allergy or eczema.

7. Severe unexplained headache

What it could be: Pain is your body's way of telling you something's wrong, so if it's constant or recurring, see your doctor, especially if it feels different to a normal headache. Combined with other symptoms, it could be a sign of a stroke, blood vessel inflammation, meningitis or even a brain tumour.

What it probably is: We all get unexplained headaches and it could be a result of stress, or even dehydration.

8. A heavier than normal vaginal discharge

What it could be: if you notice a change that's unusual for your body it could be caused by a sexually transmitted infection, which can cause heavy discharge with an unpleasant smell. It might be embarrassing, but the sooner you get treatment the easier these conditions are to cure.

What it probably is: Discharge naturally varies in amount and consistency, so the chances are that it's nothing at all.

9. Pins and needles in the feet

What it could be: Pins and needles are often the first signs of nerve damage and a condition called peripheral neuropathy. This itself is often a sign of diabetes and recent figures suggest that almost 750,000 people in the UK don't realise they have the condition.

What it probably is: Usually, they just mean poor circulation, but as with all symptoms, if they don't go away, it's worth a trip to the doctor.

10. Short of breath

What it could be: Most of us feel a little breathless after climbing a flight of stairs, but if you're gasping for air when laying or sitting down, it's a possible sign of heart failure. Other causes are asthma, anxiety or a blood clot in the lungs.

What it probably is: It's more than likely that you're very unfit - could be time to check out that local leisure centre.

Still not sure?

If you're ever in doubt whether a symptom experienced by you or your family is serious it's always better to speak to your GP to be sure. You can also get advice and information by looking up your symptoms on the NHS Direct website www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk (opens in new tab) or calling their 24-hour helpline on 0845 4647.

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