7 signs and symptoms not to ignore
From unexplained weight loss to sudden flashes of light, take note of important symptoms, and know when to seek medical care.By Mayo Clinic Staff
Chest pain, sudden loss of vision or speech, and severe stomach pain need immediate medical attention. But what about more subtle symptoms? It can be hard to know when to seek medical care. Here's a list of seven symptoms that call for attention.
1. Unexplained weight loss
Losing weight without trying may be a sign of a health problem. An unexplained drop in weight could be caused by many conditions. These include overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), diabetes, depression, liver disease, cancer or disorders that interfere with how your body absorbs nutrients (malabsorption disorders).
If you've lost more than 5% of your body weight during the past 6 to 12 months talk to your health care provider.
2. Persistent or high fever
Fever seems to play a key role in fighting infection. Persistent fever can mean you have an infection, including COVID-19. If you have a fever and other symptoms, such as cough and fatigue, contact your health care provider right away for medical advice. Your health care provider will likely recommend that you get tested for COVID-19. If you have emergency COVID-19 symptoms, such as trouble breathing, seek care immediately. If you need to go to a hospital, call ahead. Then health care providers can take steps to ensure that others aren't exposed.
A fever can also be a symptom of many other infectious diseases, from a urinary tract infection to tuberculosis. Some drugs can cause a fever.
Call your health care provider if your temperature is 103 F (39.4 C) or higher. And call your provider if you've had a fever for more than three days.
3. Shortness of breath
Strenuous exercise, extreme temperatures, obesity and high altitude all can cause shortness of breath. Shortness of breath also could be a sign of another health 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 or a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism). Other causes include 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 clear cause.
4. Unexplained changes in bowel habits
What's considered typical for bowel movements varies widely. Consult your health care provider if you notice unusual or unexplained changes in your bowel movements, such as:
- Bloody, black or tarry-colored stools
- Persistent diarrhea or constipation
- Pain in the stomach that doesn't go away
Changes in bowel habits could be a sign of a bacterial infection — such as campylobacter or salmonella infection — or a viral or parasitic infection. Other possible causes include irritable bowel disease and colon cancer.
5. Confusion or personality changes
Seek medical attention if you have sudden:
- Poor thinking skills
- Difficulty focusing or paying attention
- Behavior changes
These changes could be caused by many problems, such as infection, dehydration, poor nutrition, mental health conditions or drugs.
6. Feeling full after eating very little
If you usually feel full too soon or after eating less than usual, get checked by your health care provider. You might have this feeling, known as early satiety, along with nausea, vomiting, bloating or weight loss. If so, be sure to tell your health care provider about these symptoms as well.
Possible causes of early satiety include gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD, and peptic ulcers. In some cases, a more serious problem — such as stomach cancer — could be a factor.
7. Flashes of light
Bright spots or flashes of light can sometimes be a sign of a migraine. In other cases, sudden flashes of light could be a sign of a serious condition in which a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye pulls away from its position (retinal detachment). Immediate medical care can help prevent permanent vision loss.
April 26, 2022
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing!
You'll soon start receiving the latest Mayo Clinic health information you requested in your inbox.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
See more In-depth
- Unintentional weight loss. National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/unintentional-weight-loss/. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Goldman L, et al., eds. Malnutrition: assessment and support. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Fever. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/biology-of-infectious-disease/fever. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Goldman L, et al., eds. Approach to fever or suspected infection in the normal host. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Francis J Jr, et al. Diagnosis of delirium and confusional states. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Dyspnea. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/symptoms-of-pulmonary-disorders/dyspnea. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Goldman L, et al., eds. Functional gastrointestinal disorders: Irritable bowel syndrome, dyspepsia, esophageal chest pain, and heartburn. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Diagnosing and treating shortness of breath. American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/warning-signs-of-lung-disease/shortness-of-breath/diagnosing-treating. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- What are floaters and flashes. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-floaters-flashes. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ibd/what-is-IBD.htm. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Indigestion (dyspepsia). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/indigestion-dyspepsia. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- COVID-19: What to do if you are sick. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Schwartzstein RM. Approach to the patient with dyspnea. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Flashes of light. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/symptoms/flashes-of-light. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Gupta R, et al. Approach to the patient with unintentional weight loss. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Evaluation of the gastrointestinal patient. Merck Manual Professional Version. Accessed https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/approach-to-the-gastrointestinal-patient/evaluation-of-the-gastrointestinal-patient. April 1, 2022.