Feature Archive

Silent Medical Conditions

Find out now if your health is jeopardized by one of these stealth medical conditions.

By Denise Mann, MS
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

Remember that old saying: "What you don't know won't hurt you?" When it comes to your health, that's wrong - and dangerous!

From high blood pressure to skin cancer, some life-threatening health conditions often arrive with few symptoms or fanfare. While you may feel fine, millions of us have one of these conditions and don't know it. Now for the good news: If we spot these conditions early, we can take simple steps to greatly reduce our risk of serious complications in the future.

Here's what you really need to know about the top seven silent health thieves. Start protecting yourself now.

Diabetes Type 2 Diabetes

"Watch out for extreme thirst, dry mouth, increased urination and blurred vision. These are often the first signs of diabetes."

- Anne Borik, DO

About 18 million people have type 2 diabetes and another 16 million are silently at risk. Could it be you?

"A lot of people have diabetes and don't know it, but the symptoms will eventually catch up with you," warns Anne Borik, DO, an internist at the Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix.

Type 2 diabetes is usually due to bad diet and lack of exercise. Foods such as sweets, white breads, potatoes, white rice and crackers convert quickly to sugar in the body. When there is too much blood sugar in the body, the cells gradually become unable to use insulin properly.

But "if you catch it early, Type 2 diabetes absolutely can be controlled with a low-carbohydrate and low-sugar diet," Borik says.

If you have any of the early symptoms, "get either a urine or a fasting blood sugar test to find out where you stand," she says. "Controlling blood sugar is vitally important in reducing the risk of heart attack and other complications."

Testing for diabetes should be considered every three years beginning at age 45, according to current guidelines. And even more frequently in people at increased risk for the condition.

People at highest risk for the disease are those who are overweight, women who developed diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes), and people with family members who have the disease.

Heart DiseaseHeart Disease

"In women, signs of a heart attack may include bloating, gastrointestinal upset, back pain, arm pain, nausea and sweating."

- Anne Borik, DO

Heart disease is public enemy No. 1 for men and women. Often, the first sign of a heart attack is not crushing chest pain like we see in the movies, especially for women.

And chest pain is often not a sharp pain, but a "very dull, achy heaviness," says Borik, an internist at the Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix.

If you feel such symptoms, you may not be sure what's wrong. They may even come and go, but to be on the safe side, you should call 911 immediately to seek care.

Regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and not smoking can help lower risk of heart disease and heart attack . "A daily baby aspirin may also be advisable to lower your risk, provided you have no history of ulcers or liver problems," Borik says. Talk to your doctor before taking aspirin to lower your heart disease risk.

Genital HerpesGenital Herpes

"This is an 'everywhere' disease."

- Charles Ebel, the American Social Health Association.

"It's not only common, but recent studies demonstrate that herpes cuts across race and class very dramatically," says Charles Ebel, senior director of program development at the American Social Health Association in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.