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1. Being drop-dead tired - Exhaustion seems like the status quo for busy parents, but it can also be a warning sign of something serious. How to tell the difference: "Go through a check-list," says internist Sandra A. Fryhofer, M.D. "Have you been getting your usual amount of sleep? Are you eating normally? Is your schedule the same as always?" If you or your hus-band struggle to get out of bed but there's no lifestyle change that could be to blame, the cause could be as simple as anemia or as complicated as cancer. "It's easy to rule things out with tests," Fryhofer says, but many people wait to get help because they think it means they can't hack work or parenthood. That's just wrong: Fatigue is your body's way of telling you some-thing. So listen to your body and call your doctor.!
2. Painful sex - If sex hurts, tell your doctor right away, says Mark Perloe, M.D., an ob/gyn in Atlanta. If it's not simple dryness (easily fixed with lube), painful sex might be an indication that something is wrong. It could be a vaginal infection, benign fibroid tumors in the uterus, or — perhaps most serious — endometriosis. Endo, which affects 5.5 million women, mostly in their 30s and 40s, is a condition in which the lining of the uterus grows outside of the organ in the pelvic area and often causes heavy, painful periods. Aside from enjoying sex again, treatment is key because endometriosis can cause infertility.
3. Feeling really, really thirsty
- Excessive thirst and peeing all the time (possibly coupled with unexplained weight loss) are blaring warning signs of type 2 diabetes in adults and juvenile diabetes in kids, which often pops up around puberty, says Elizabeth Seaquist, M.D., a professor of endocrinology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Diabetes in grown-ups and kids is serious business. Not only does it more than double a person's risk of heart disease, but it can also lead to stroke, blindness, and even some cancers. Rates of type 2 diabetes have gotten so high that a recent study warned that if Americans don't start exercising and losing weight, a whopping 50 percent of adults will have the disease or pre-diabetes by 2020.
4. Weird testicle changes - Men have a reputation for being obsessed with sex, but when it comes to sex organs, most could be a little more attentive. "Men should be watching for changes, pain, or lumps in their testicles," says S. Adam Ramin, M.D., a urologist in Los Angeles. Encourage him to check for swelling and tenderness — signs of testicular cancer. Seventy-five percent of cases occur in men between the ages of 20 and 45.
5. Ouch, heartburn - Reaching for an antacid after a rich meal is common, but if you or your husband need them at least once a week, see your doctor. Stomach acids that continually gurgle up can form scar tissue in your esophagus and increase your chances of esophageal cancer, says Susan Blum, M.D., of Rye Brook, NY. A doctor may prescribe a proton-pump inhibitor, such as Nexium or Prilosec, as a temporary fix, but it's key to address any underlying causes like stress, diet, or weight.
6. Real trouble bouncing back form disappointment - Does a breakup send your teen reeling for months? Does your guy fly off the handle over a Starbucks order snafu? Could a friend's canceling plans leave you distraught for the rest of the day? A lack of resilience or over-reacting are subtle signs of depression that people often write off as stress or typical teenage drama. "A lot of people don't realize they're depressed, especially in the early stages," says New York City psychotherapist Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. Although teens (and sometimes grown men!) are dramatic by nature, trust your gut if a reaction seems over the top. The longer a depressed person goes without seeing a doctor or therapist, the deeper they can dig themselves into it — and the harder it will be to climb out. In terms of treatment, exercise may help mild depression, but a combo of medication and therapy is best for moderate and severe cases.
7. Bleeding gums - Receding gums and bad breath aren't the only things you need to worry about when you see blood on your toothbrush; several studies link gum problems with heart disease, stroke, and arthritis. "The inflammatory response from gum disease may increase harmful chemicals circulating in your body," notes Donald Clem, D.D.S., of Fullerton, CA, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. Gum disease is more of an issue for adults, but kids with poor diets and brushing habits are at risk too. A good rule for the whole family: If you see red, "stop!" and see your dentist.
8. Blurry vision -
Can't quite make out the fine print? Before you give in and buy drugstore specs, have your eyes checked. Though changes in close vision are normal as we age, blurred vision or a sudden change in eyesight can be an early sign of diabetes, high blood pressure, cataracts, or a retinal disorder, says Zac B. Ravage, M.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. In addition to blurriness, see your doc if you regularly see flashes and floaters — glints of light out of nowhere or spots that waft past your sight line.
9. An "ugly duckling" mole or spot - You know the Sesame Street song that goes "one of these things is not like the others"? If that applies to a mole or freckle, seeing a dermatologist soon could save your life or your husband's. "If most of your spots are light brown and you see one that's pink or black, or if most are tiny yet one is much bigger, that's the one to worry about," says Steven Q. Wang, M.D., author of Beating Melanoma and a dermatologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. And it's more important than ever to be vigilant: Incidence of potentially deadly melanoma has jumped 30 percent in the last 10 years, with rates in young women growing at an even faster clip. In women, hot spots for this skin cancer tend to be the torso and legs. For guys, keep an eye on the back and chest. And even if you don't have any weird moles, scheduling an annual skin check with your derm is a good idea, Wang says.
10. A pain that goes throb in the night - If your foot is sore and keeps pounding once you get in bed, you could have a stress fracture, a small crack that occurs when bones can't take the force of a repetitive movement. It's most common in feet, and can sometimes be a warning sign of low bone density. "You can get one from wearing unsupportive shoes, or just too much activity," says Lisa Cannada, M.D., an ortho-pedic surgeon in St. Louis. Your weekend-warrior husband and sports-loving kids are at risk too, but women and athletes are most prone because of the amount of stress they put on their bones. "I've seen too many women do a charity walk, and their foot starts hurting, but they wait a month to see the doctor. By then, more damage has been done," Cannada says. The fix is usually just rest, although some more serious stress fractures may need splinting.
11. Too-quick breathing - You're unlikely to ignore a kid who is loudly wheezing, but that's not the only sign of potentially life-threatening respiratory distress. An elevated breathing rate is the first, says pediatrician Jim Sears, M.D. To measure your child's breathing rate, count how many breaths he takes in 60 seconds. If it's over the cutoff for your child's age (60 for babies under 3 months, 50 for babies 3 to 12 months, 40 for kids 1 to 5, 30 for kids 5 to 12, 20 for teens), call the doctor right away and insist on a same-day appointment.
12. Having a pot belly
- That little beer gut you kid him about isn't necessarily benign: A waist larger than 40 inches for men, or 35 inches for women, doubles the risk of dying of a heart attack or stroke. "Abdominal fat changes the way our bodies work in profound ways," says Elizabeth Klodas, M.D., a Minneapolis cardiologist. Unlike fat that collects just under the skin, some abdominal fat sits deeper, hugging organs and producing hormones and other substances that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and dementia. Scarier still, one European study of more than 300,000 people showed that a tubby tummy nearly doubles the risk of dying, regardless of other factors, like total body weight. "This type of fat accumulation is a health emergency," Klodas says. A good place to start de-jellying a belly: Ditch empty calories from sodas, sports drinks, and beer. Research shows that beer lovers' nightly lagers really do cause a big ol' belly.
13. Erection issues - Talking with your husband about his erections, or lack thereof, can be awkward. Ignoring an issue, though, is worse, because "erectile problems can be the initial symptom of life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and even spinal cord problems," says urologist S. Adam Ramin, M.D. Low testosterone, thyroid disorders, and depression can also meddle with his member. An occasional lack of bodily cooperation is normal, but if it happens more than half the time, set up a doctor visit.
14. Loud snoring - An elbow to the ribs might effectively stop your man's incessant gggggghhhh (or yours), but that's no reason to ignore it. Like a foghorn at sea, snoring is a warning call — of a pretty serious condition called sleep apnea, in which the airway becomes temporarily blocked, disrupting deep sleep. "People with apnea have higher blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attack and depression too," says cardiologist Elizabeth Klodas. They're also twice as likely to get into a car crash due to sleepiness. Losing weight can cure it, and treatments like dental retainers and breathing masks can help lessen symptoms. (Sorry, those snore sprays and other "miracle" cures usually don't work, Klodas says.)
15. Constant achiness - A good dose of rest and Advil should relieve pain caused by exercise or sleeping funny. But if multiple joints ache for two weeks without explanation, go to the doctor. "Lyme disease is a common reason women in their 30s and 40s get joint pain," says Susan Blum, M.D., founder and director of the Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. But everyone in your family is at risk: Cases of the tick-born bacterial disease have jumped almost threefold since 1995. "You might never have seen a tick or the typical bull's-eye rash, but if you have achiness and have been near fields or woods, get checked," she says. Antibiotics can cure Lyme if caught within three months of infection, but if it lingers, it can lead to long-term nervous-system damage and other problems. Even if you're sure you haven't met a tick, you should still see a doc: Joint pain and stiffness can be a sign of the autoimmune disorder lupus, which often strikes women in their 30s and 40s. A doctor can suggest lifestyle changes like getting more rest and exercise, along with medications to help reduce flare-ups.
16. Lack of eye contact from your little one -
A child can show signs of autism long before you'd be able to spot well-known symptoms like delayed speech and social skills. One of the first: not holding your gaze. "Typically-developing infants as young as 2 months old will try to engage and connect with you through eye contact, smiling, and cooing," says pediatrician Ari Brown, M.D. "Babies with autism aren't interested in interaction. Parents describe them as 'being in their own world.'" If this sounds familiar, don't wait and worry; call the pediatrician. "Children who are identified as autistic earlier and receive intensive therapy tend to have the best outcomes in the long run," she says.
17. Trouble dropping pounds - Not trouble as in "I couldn't resist that third slice of pizza" — trouble like you've been exercising more and eating less for months but the scale hasn't budged. In that case, your hormones may be working against you, and you need a doc, not more willpower, to fix them. Difficulty losing weight is a common symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal imbalance that as many as one in 10 women have. It starts at puberty but often goes undiagnosed for years; it can take a decade or more before you notice gradually worsening symptoms like stubborn adult acne, extra facial hair, irregular periods, fertility trouble, or thinning hair on your head. An ob/gyn or endocrinologist can diagnose it with a few tests and sometimes an ultrasound. The right meds, plus a doctor-approved diet and exercise regimen, can often reverse the negative effects, including extra weight.
18. A stiff neck - You might get a crick in your neck from long hours at the office, but if your kid has a sore, stiff neck, plus a high fever and headache, drop everything and go to the ER. Meningitis, an infection that leads to inflammation around the brain and spinal cord, is rare but dangerous. "One minute you think your kid has the flu; the next she's comatose," says Sandra A. Fryhofer, M.D., past president of the American College of Physicians. "But if your child can look up at the ceiling, down at his toes and isn't bothered by light, he probably doesn't have it," adds Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, TX. Preteens are routinely vaccinated, but protocols have changed. "We used to think the vaccine lasted 10 years; now we know it's only five, so kids need a booster before college," Fryhofer says. Any child can contract the bug, but high school and college students are most prone because they share everything — drinks, kisses, clothes, you name it.