Symptoms of 12 Serious Diseases and Health Problems

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Steven Doerr, MD
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

A doctor listens to a patient’s chest with a stethoscope.

Symptoms of 12 serious diseases and health problems facts

When is a cough "just" a cough, or a headache a symptom to be concerned about? Following are signs and symptoms that could indicate a serious health condition, and you should see a doctor if you experience any symptoms of concern. Sometimes, a symptom in one part of the body may be a sign of a problem in another part. Even seemingly unrelated symptoms that might be minor on their own could be signs of a more serious medical condition. Listen to your body, note all symptoms, and share them in detail with your doctor.

Quick GuideHeart Disease: Symptoms, Signs, and Causes

Heart Disease: Symptoms, Signs, and Causes

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Chest pain and pressure are the characteristic symptoms of a heart attack; however, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience heart attack that does not occur in this typical fashion. Instead, some women with heart attacks may experience more of the other symptoms, like

  • lightheadedness,
  • nausea,
  • extreme fatigue,
  • fainting,
  • dizziness, or
  • pressure in the upper back.
An illustration portrays a heart attack.

15 Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Heart attacks in real life often are not as dramatic as they appear to be in movies. Some early symptoms of a heart attack can happen a month or so before the heart attack.

Before a heart attack, you may experience these symptoms:

  1. Unusual fatigue/low energy
  2. Trouble sleeping
  3. Problems breathing
  4. Indigestion
  5. Anxiety
  6. Back or abdominal pain

During a heart attack, these symptoms may occur:

  1. Pain, uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, or feeling of fullness in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back
  2. Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  3. Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort

Other symptoms are:

  1. Breaking out in a cold sweat
  2. Nausea and/or vomiting,
  3. Lightheadedness

Women also experience chest pain or discomfort, but also are more likely than men to experience

  1. shortness of breath,
  2. nausea/vomiting, and
  3. back or jaw pain.

If you have any of the above symptoms, go to an emergency room right away or call 911.

A doctor assists a confused senior woman.

10 Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke

Signs of a stroke happen suddenly and are different from signs of a heart attack. The American Stroke Association recommends remembering the mnemonic F.A.S.T. to spot a stroke and know when to call 9-1-1 for help:

  1. Face drooping
  2. Arm weakness
  3. Speech difficulty
  4. Time to call 9-1-1

Other signs and symptoms of stroke to watch for include:

  1. Sudden or rapidly developing problems with sight
  2. Sudden or rapidly developing problems with dizziness, balance, and coordination
  3. Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs
  4. Sudden confusion or trouble understanding
  5. Sudden inability to say the right word, incoherent speech, or slurred speech
  6. Severe headache with no known cause

If you have any of the above symptoms, go to an emergency room right away or call 911.

View the Heart Disease Slideshow
An illustration of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

7 Signs and Symptoms of Lung Disease

Lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, asthma, and other diseases of the lungs can be serious and should be addressed.

Symptoms of serious lung problems include:

  1. Coughing up blood
  2. Severe wheezing
  3. Difficulty breathing

If you have any of the above symptoms, go to an emergency room right away or call 911.

Other symptoms of lung problems include:

  1. Persistent, chronic cough that gets worse over time
  2. Repeated bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia
  3. Chronic mucus production (phlegm)
  4. Chronic chest pain, especially discomfort which gets worse when you inhale or cough

Contact a health-care professional to discuss your symptoms.

A doctor points to an anatomic model of a breast.

5 Signs and Symptoms of Breast Disease

A woman has a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. However, though many breast problems are not cancer-related, they do require prompt evaluation.

Signs and symptoms of breast problems include:

  1. Nipple discharge (could be milky, yellowish, greenish, or brownish)
  2. Unusual breast tenderness or pain
  3. Breast or nipple skin changes, such as ridges, dimpling, pitting, swelling, redness, or scaling
  4. Lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area
  5. Inverted nipples

If you experience any of these breast problem symptoms, see a health-care professional for evaluation.

A man experiences bladder problems.

7 Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Problems

Bladder problems can be frustrating and embarrassing, and are not something you should simply "learn to live with," as they can be signs of a more serious condition. See a health-care professional if you experience any of the following symptoms of bladder problems:

  1. Difficult or painful urination
  2. Frequent urination (more than 8 times daily)
  3. Loss of bladder control
  4. Blood in the urine
  5. Feeling the urge to urinate when the bladder is empty
  6. Waking frequently at night to urinate or wetting the bed at night
  7. Leaking urine when you laugh, cough, sneeze, or exercise

A urologist is a specialist in diseases and function of the bladder.

A daughter comforts her senior mother.

12 Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness or Emotional Problems

Note: These symptoms can have a physical cause and are usually treatable.

  1. Anxiety and constant worry
  2. Feeling depressed, empty, sad all the time, or worthless
  3. Extreme fatigue even when rested
  4. Extreme tension that can't be explained
  5. Flashbacks and nightmares about traumatic events
  6. No interest in getting out of bed or doing regular activities, including eating or having sex
  7. Thoughts about suicide and death
  8. Thoughts of killing others
  9. Seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations)
  10. Seeing things differently from what they are (delusions)
  11. "Baby blues" that haven't gone away two weeks after giving birth and seem to get worse over time
  12. Thoughts about harming yourself or your baby after giving birth

If you feel suicidal or homicidal, seek medical treatment immediately. If you experience any other mental or emotional problems, you may be referred to a psychiatrist, a doctor who specializes in mental illness, and/or a psychologist, who is a counselor who can help you talk about your problems.

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A female patient waits on an examination table.

15 Symptoms of Female Reproductive Health Problems

In women, there are numerous conditions that can affect the reproductive system, such as cancer, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, infertility, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and more.

Symptoms of female reproductive and hormonal health problems include:

  1. Bleeding or spotting between periods
  2. Itching, burning, or irritation (including bumps, blisters, or sores) of the vagina or genital area
  3. Pain or discomfort during sex
  4. Excessively heavy bleeding or severe pain with periods
  5. Severe pelvic/abdominal pain
  6. A change in vaginal discharge (amount, color or odor)
  7. Feeling of fullness in the lower abdomen
  8. Frequent urination or feeling of urgency to urinate
  9. Lower back pain
  10. Pelvic Pain
  11. Known reproductive problems such as infertility, past miscarriages or early labor
  12. Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, thumbs, or toes
  13. Baldness or thinning hair
  14. Acne, oily skin, or dandruff
  15. Patches of thickened dark brown or black skin

If you experience any of the above symptoms, see your doctor to determine the cause.

A doctor points to the stomach and intestines on an anatomic model.

9 Signs and Symptoms of Stomach and Digestive Diseases

The digestive system runs all the way from your mouth, through the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and rectum, to the anus. It also includes the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. Problems with any of these organs can affect your daily life.

Symptoms of stomach or digestive problems include:

  1. Bleeding from the rectum (rectal bleeding)
  2. Blood or mucus in the stool (including diarrhea) or black stools
  3. Change in bowel habits or not being able to control your bowels
  4. Constipation and/or diarrhea
  5. Heartburn or acid reflux (a burning feeling in the throat or mouth)
  6. Pain or feeling of fullness in the stomach
  7. Unusual abdominal swelling, bloating, or general discomfort
  8. Chronic vomiting
  9. Vomiting blood

For any severe symptoms, go to an emergency room or call 911. For mild or moderate symptoms, call a health-care professional who may recommend you see a gastroenterologist, a specialist in the digestive system who can help diagnose, manage, or treat your condition.

Quick GuideHeart Disease: Symptoms, Signs, and Causes

Heart Disease: Symptoms, Signs, and Causes
A doctor examines the skin of a patient.

8 Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., and one type of skin cancer - melanoma - is particularly deadly. It's important to know what your skin normally looks like, and notice any signs and symptoms of skin problems including:

  1. Changes in skin moles, such as changes in shape, color or size
  2. Frequent flushing and redness of face and neck
  3. Jaundice (skin and whites of eyes turn yellow)
  4. Painful, crusty, scaling, or oozing skin lesions that don't go away or heal
  5. Sensitivity to the sun
  6. Small lump on skin that is smooth, shiny, and waxy (red or reddish-brown)
  7. New growths or new moles on the skin
  8. Thick, red skin with silvery patches

See a dermatologist (a skin specialist) to evaluate any skin problems you are experiencing.

View the Heart Disease Slideshow
A woman holds her shoulder in pain.

8 Signs and Symptoms of Muscle or Joint Disease

There are many different conditions that can affect the muscles and joints. See a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  1. Muscle pains and body aches that are persistent, or that come and go often
  2. Numbness, tingling (pins and needles sensation) or discomfort in the hands, feet, or limbs
  3. Pain, tenderness, stiffness, swelling, inflammation, or redness in or around joints
  4. Decreased range of motion of the joints
  5. Loss of function of any muscles or joints
  6. Muscle weakness
  7. Decreased grip strength
  8. Excessive fatigue

Your general practitioner may refer you to a specialist if you are experiencing muscle or joint problems. You may be referred to a rheumatologist (specialist in disorders of the joints and autoimmune disorders), an orthopedic physician (specialist in the bones and muscles) or to a physiatrist (specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation).

A woman with a headache rubs her temples.

12 Signs and Symptoms of Headache Disorders

Note: This does not include everyday tension headaches.

We all have headaches from time to time, but if headaches are particularly severe or frequent, you may have migraines or another serious type of headache disorder.

Symptoms of serious headache disorders include:

  1. Headache that comes on suddenly
  2. "The worst headache of your life"
  3. Headache associated with severe dizziness/fainting, vomiting, and inability to walk
  4. Headache associated with confusion, seizure, difficulty speaking, or weakness/numbness in the limbs
  5. Severe headache associated with neck stiffness and fever

If you have any of the above symptoms, go to an emergency room right away or call 911.

Other symptoms of headache problems include:

  1. Headaches between the eyes
  2. Headaches that last longer than a couple of days
  3. Seeing flashing lights or zigzag lines with temporary vision loss before a headache starts
  4. Spreading pain in the face that starts in one eye
  5. Severe pain on one or both sides of head with nausea or vision problems
  6. Extremely severe headache with pain around the eye with tearing and redness, runny nose, and eyelid droop.
  7. Tell your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms of headache disorders. You may be referred to a headache specialist, usually a neurologist.

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An upset female teenager sits on the floor of a bathroom next to a scale.

14 Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders and Weight Problems

Most of us gain or lose some weight from time to time, and this is usually normal. For some people who have eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa, a preoccupation with weight becomes a serious medical issue.

Signs and symptoms of eating or weight problems include:

  1. Extreme thirst, dehydration, or hunger
  2. Losing weight without trying or abnormal weight loss
  3. Desire to binge on food excessively
  4. Desire to vomit on purpose
  5. Desire to starve (not eat at all)
  6. A preoccupation with food and weight
  7. Distorted body image
  8. Excessive fear of gaining weight
  9. Refusing to eat or eating tiny portions or eating alone
  10. Compulsive exercise
  11. Sensitivity to cold
  12. Menstruation ceases
  13. Abuse of laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills
  14. Depression

Eating disorders are very serious and can lead to severe medical complications, and even death. Tell a health-care professional about your issues with food and weight, or get help if you have a loved one who suffers from these issues. In addition to a doctor who specializes in treating eating disorders, you may need to see a dietician, a psychiatrist, and an eating disorder therapist.

Reviewed on 1/5/2016
References
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World Health Organization. Headache disorders. October 2012. 30 September 2015
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Valerie L Staradub, MD, FACS. Patient information: Common breast problems (Beyond the Basics). August 2015. 30 September 2015
<http://www.uptodate.com/contents/common-breast-problems-beyond-the-basics>

American Heart Association. Warning Signs of a Heart Attack. 20 October 2012. 30 September 2015
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_002039_Article.jsp>

American Heart Association. "Spot a Stroke." Updated Apr 3, 2013.
<http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/WarningSigns/Stroke-Warning-Signs-and-Symptoms_UCM_308528_SubHomePage.jsp>

American Lung Association. "Warning Signs of Lung Disease."
<http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/warning-signs-of-lung-disease/>

American Psychiatric Association. "Patients & Families."
<http://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families>

Bladder & Bowel Foundation. Bladder Conditions and Symptoms.
<https://www.bladderandbowelfoundation.org/bladder/bladder-conditions-and-symptoms/>

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Common Reproductive Health Concerns for Women." Updated Apr 24, 2014.
<http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/WomensRH/HealthConcerns.html>

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders. "Eating disorder signs and symptoms."
<http://www.anad.org/get-information/eating-disorder-signs-and-symptoms/>

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Digestive Diseases A-Z. 2015.
<http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/Pages/default.aspx>

National Institutes of Health. "Skin Health and Skin Diseases." Fall 2008.
<https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/fall08/articles/fall08pg22-25.html>

Mohawk College. Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD) Signs and Symptoms.
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