7 signs and symptoms not to ignore
Take note of important signs and symptoms — from unexplained weight loss to sudden flashes of light — and know when to seek medical care.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Chest pain, sudden loss of vision or speech, and severe abdominal pain require immediate medical attention — but what about more subtle signs and symptoms? It can be tough to know what to do. Here's a list of seven signs and symptoms that merit attention.
1. Unexplained weight loss
Losing weight without trying might sound like a dream come true, but in reality it can signal a health problem. If you're not obese and you've lost more than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms), or more than 5 percent of your body weight, during the past six to 12 months consult your doctor.
An unexplained drop in weight could be caused by various conditions — including overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), diabetes, depression, liver disease, cancer or disorders that interfere with how your body absorbs nutrients (malabsorption disorders).
2. Persistent or high fever
A fever isn't necessarily a cause for alarm. Fever seems to play a key role in fighting infection. Persistent fever can signal a hidden infection, which could be anything from a urinary tract infection to tuberculosis. In some cases, cancerous (malignant) conditions — such as lymphomas — cause prolonged or persistent fevers, as can some medications.
Call your doctor if your temperature is 103 F (39.4 C) or higher or you've had a fever for more than three days.
3. Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath could signal an underlying health problem. Very strenuous exercise, extreme temperatures, massive obesity and high altitude all can cause shortness of breath. Outside of these examples, shortness of breath is likely a sign of a medical problem. If you have unexplained shortness of breath, especially if it comes on suddenly and is severe, seek emergency medical care.
Causes for breathlessness might include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism), as well as other heart and lung problems. Difficulty breathing can also occur with a panic attack — a sudden episode of intense anxiety that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.
April 14, 2017
See more In-depth
- Unintentional weight loss. National Health Service. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/unexpected-weight-loss/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed Feb. 21, 2017.
- Goldman L, et al., eds. Nutritional assessment. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2016. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 21, 2017.
- Fever. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/biology-of-infectious-disease/fever. Accessed Feb. 21, 2017.
- Goldman L, et al., eds. Approach to fever or suspected infection in the normal host. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2016. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 21, 2017.
- Fever. American College of Emergency Physicians. http://www.emergencycareforyou.org/Content.aspx?id=242. Accessed Feb. 21, 2017.
- Dyspnea. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/symptoms-of-pulmonary-disorders/dyspnea. Accessed Feb. 21, 2017.
- Mockel M, et al. Chief complaints in medical emergencies: Do they relate to underlying disease and outcome? The Charité´ Emergency Medicine Study (CHARITEM). European Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2013;20:103.
- Shortness of breath symptoms, causes and risk factors. American Lung Association. http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/shortness-of-breath/shortness-breath-symptoms-risks.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/. Accessed Feb. 21, 2017.
- Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gastrointestinal-bleeding. Accessed Feb.21, 2017.
- Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea. Accessed Feb. 22, 2017.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ibd/. Accessed Feb. 21, 2017.
- Constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation. Accessed Feb. 22, 2017.
- Overview of GI symptoms. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/symptoms-of-gi-disorders/overview-of-gi-symptoms. Accessed Feb. 22, 2017.
- Francis J, et al. Diagnosis of delirium and confusional states. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 22, 2017.
- Feldman M, et al. Dyspepsia. In: Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2016. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 22, 2017.
- What you need to know about cancer of the pancreas. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/wyntk-pancreas. Accessed Feb. 22, 2017.
- Flashes of light. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/symptoms/flashes-of-light. Accessed Feb. 22, 2017.