Eight health warning signs we should never ignore

Getting older is part of life and there are a lot of good things about it, one of them being the joy of seeing your children grow up and have a family of their own.

But what about your health as your body ages? Do you know the danger signs to look for that could indicate a potentially serious health problem?

Many of us don’t, including me. I’m almost 60 but I vaguely knew about signs of a heart attack and lumps in breasts, but beyond that I was at a total loss.

So, here are the major ones my research unearthed. Can you guess what they are? Learn them – they might just save your life.

1. Pain in the chest, numbness, shortness of breath
You’d think the symptoms of a possible heart attack would be the same for a man and a woman, but they aren’t. Men can often have a dramatic onset such as numbness or a sharp pain the the chest, but a women’s symptoms can be subtler and can often appear to be only anxiety, stress or indigestion. Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra said signs can include discomfort in the chest, waking up at night with difficulty catching breath, chronic generalised fatigue, a pain below the left shoulder blade or elsewhere in the back – and that’s just for starters. Signs can be confusing, so the best course is to have anything unusual checked out by your doctor. Shortness of breath can also indicate a blocked artery, which can lead to a heart attack.

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2. Motor skill difficulties
This can include your speech, balance, coordination difficulties, changes in vision and weakness or numbness in your face, arms or legs. Don’t confuse it just with normal ageing – we all slow down a little as we age and our balance can not be what it once was, which is why Tai Chi and other forms of balance-orientated exercise are so good for us. Again, this is equally applicable to men. Guessed what it is a sign of yet? Yes, you got it right, a stroke.

3. Vaginal bleeding after menopause
Obviously this is a women-only issue. Sometimes this can indicate only a minor issue, but it could also be a sign of cancer, so don’t ignore it.

4. Constipation
This is something we’d all rather not think about, but we consign it to the I’d-rather-not-go-there basket  at our peril. Constipation can force you to strain when you’re trying to do a bowel movement, which increases your chances of  developing painful haemorrhoids. While we all get constipated occasionally and it can be more common after we reach 50, it can signal some form of blockage, which could also be a tumour or polyp.

5. Unusual stools
Many of us know someone who has had bowel cancer, and one of the earliest signs is a change in your stools. The food and medicine you intake can have an influence on this, but a black or bloody stool should be a red flag. Other possible reasons could be an ulcer or haemorrhoids.

6. Lumps in your breast
All of us know a hard lump in your breast can be a sign of possible breast cancer, but swelling, tenderness or discolouration can also indicate this. Again, this needs to be caught early, so in addition to doing your own daily check in the shower, make sure you have regular mammograms, however uncomfortable you find them. Men can also get breast cancer, so it’s important they check their own breasts too.

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7. Skin lesions
A skin lesion that does not heal can be a skin cancer, something that is all to prevalent when our generation grew up worshiping the sun before the days of the “Slip, Slop, Slap” campaign and sunblock. Get any lesions or moles checked out because those that are painful or don’t heal may be cancer and they tend to multiply after we hit 50.

8. Depression
Sadly, this is something we seniors are at greater risk of because we face feelings of loss and loneliness more frequently. It could be caused by retiring from a job we really loved or no longer being able to engage in past-times we used to really enjoy. Signs can include sadness, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, unusual fatigue and changes in appetite. While many of these signs are not visible physical changes to your actual body, your mental health is just as important, so seek counselling if you are experiencing any of these symptoms long term.

Before I sign off a reminder that  you should seek medical advice if you experience any of the signs listed in our checklist, or any unusual changes in your body at all, for that matter.