Most of us live on the run, so it’s easy to let chronic health niggles slip under the radar. But experts say some symptoms should never be ignored.
A persistent sore throat or cold
If you have a cold or sore throat that won’t go away, it is worth seeing your GP, who can check for infection or other complications.
A long-lasting cold could signal a bacterial or sinus infection, while a sore throat might indicate streptococcus infection, which should be treated quickly with antibiotics.
A chronic sore throat could also signal glandular fever, a cancerous tumour or allergies, says GP Brian Morton, a former chair of the Australian Medical Association Council of General Practice.
“A chronic sore throat can sometimes also be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease, where acid travels up your windpipe causing inflammation and long-term, increasing the risk of cancer, if untreated,” he says.
When should you see a GP?
Make an appointment with your GP if your cold is getting worse or is no better in a week.
In many cases, occasional bloating is caused by constipation, irritable bowel or ovulation. However, regular or ongoing bloating accompanied by other symptoms could be a sign of cancer.
“Persistent bloating due to fluid in the abdomen can be a symptom of ovarian cancer,” says Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO of the Cancer Council of Australia.
Common symptoms include:
- Frequent abdominal or pelvic pain
- Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
- Needing to urinate often or urgently
- Feeling full after eating a small amount
When should you see a GP?
Ovarian Cancer Australia recommends seeing a GP if you experience any of these symptoms during a four-week period.
Puffy eyes and ankles
Though hormonal fluctuations and excess salt can cause fluid retention, constant puffy eyes and ankles can also point to kidney disease.
“The fluid retention occurs because the balance between salt and water is upset and the kidney is not working well enough to correct it,” says Dr Lisa Murphy, acting CEO of Kidney Health Australia.
Irregular or painful periods
“Extremely painful period cramps may be a sign of endometriosis, which causes the tissue that lines the uterus to grow outside the uterus,” says Clinical Associate Professor Deborah Bateson from Family Planning NSW.
Diagnosing these conditions early can reduce complications and protect fertility, she adds.
Though painful urination can be caused by cystitis, Bateson says it could also be due an STI such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes or trichomoniasis, which caused by a parasite.
Other sexually transmitted symptoms to look out for include blisters or irritated skin in the genital region or cramping in the lower abdomen.
The same bacteria that causes sore, inflamed and bleeding gums can contribute to heart disease by entering the bloodstream, causing inflammation and attaching itself to fatty plaques in the arteries, Dr Morton says.
What can you do?
Keep an eye on your gums and see your dentist every six months for a scale, clean and check-up.
Though hormonal changes might be to blame, itchy skin can also be a sign of liver disease, Dr Morton says. The culprit? Increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, which can cause fatty liver.
See your GP if you are also experiencing other symptoms such as dark urine, nausea, loss of appetite and fatigue.
Snoring does more than drive your partner crazy. It can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
What can you do?
A sleep expert from the University of South Australia, Siobhan Banks, says an overnight sleep study could help. See your GP for referral to a sleep clinic.
Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath could indicate a heart problem, especially if it worsens when lying down, Dr Morton says.
“Fast or laboured breathing could be due to anaemia, anxiety, asthma, heart attack, a blood clot, respiratory disease or pneumonia.”
Watch for brittleness, which can signal thyroid problems and vitamin D deficiency. Indentations or pitting might be caused by dermatitis or a skin condition called psoriasis.
Nail loosening and lifting from the nail bed can indicate a fungal infection.