Alert
Close

Think you know AARP? What you don't know about us may surprise you. Discover all the 'Real Possibilities'

HIGHLIGHTS

Open

REAL POSSIBILITIES

AARP Real Possibilities

DRIVER SAFETY

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Contests and
Sweeps

Dream Vacation Sweepstakes

10 weeks. 10 amazing trips. Seize your chance to win!
See official rules. 

CHECK OUT OUR
NEW IPAD APP!

ATM Mobile App for iPhone and Ipad

Enjoy the best of AARP’s award-winning publications

on the go with the new

AARP ePubs iPad App

KEEP BRAIN ACTIVE!

AARP Games - Play Now!

AARP BOOKS

Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

Get expert advice on planning for your own or a relative’s future care needs.

Webinars

Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming webinar or find materials from a past session.

Learning centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.

 

Arthritis

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Most Popular

Viewed

Commented

share your thoughts

What does the health care law mean to you? Your story is important. We read and learn from every story and it helps us in our educational efforts. We may even use your comments (with permission) to brief legislators, inspire readers and more. Please share your story with us. Do

9 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

Pain, fever, shortness of breath — when are these a temporary bother or something much worse?

AARP empowers you to pursue your goals and dreams - Gloria Estefan


3. Unexplained Weight Loss

The big worries: Losing more than 5 percent of your body weight — without trying — over a period of six months could mean cancer: Weight loss is a symptom in up to 36 percent of cancers in older people. "If you or a family member is suddenly losing weight after trying 400 times before, you have to ask, 'Why is this time the charm?' " says Lichtenfeld.

What else it might be: Endocrine disorders are a common cause of unintentional weight loss. Of those with an endocrine disorder (especially hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid), up to 11 percent experience weight loss. The condition also triggers restlessness, sweating, increased appetite and difficulty concentrating.

If your weight loss is accompanied by extreme thirst or hunger, fatigue and frequent urination, it could be a sign of diabetes.

Gastrointestinal conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease cause weight loss as well — in addition to symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Depression and other psychiatric conditions could be to blame, too. "Decreased appetite and weight loss are very common symptoms of depression," says Susan G. Kornstein, M.D., professor of psychiatry and obstetrics/gynecology at Virginia Commonwealth University. "But patients with unexplained weight loss should undergo a workup to rule out general medical causes."

4. Unusual Bleeding

The big worries: Ulcers and colon cancer can cause rectal bleeding or black or tarry stools, says Andres Pardo-Agila, M.D., a family medicine physician at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. If you haven't had a colonoscopy recently, talk to your physician. Vaginal bleeding can be linked to gynecologic cancers. Bloody vomit can result from stomach or esophageal cancer, and people with lung cancer can cough up blood. "Whenever you see blood where it shouldn't be, see a doctor," says Lichtenfeld.

What else it might be: Blood in the stool may be due to hemorrhoids, while blood in the urine may be the result of a bladder or kidney infection. Vaginal bleeding long after menopause may be due to the growth of benign polyps or fibroids. Vomiting blood can result from a tear in the blood vessels or an ulcer in the stomach or esophagus. And coughing up blood can happen with noncancerous conditions, like bronchitis, pneumonia or tuberculosis. "There are many common reasons for seeing blood where you don't expect it, but it still has to be checked out and treated," Lichtenfeld advises.

5. High or Persistent Fever

The big worries: Fever is your body's way of fighting infection. But "fever of 103 degrees and higher warrants a trip to the doctor — period," says David Bronson, M.D., president of the American College of Physicians. It may indicate a urinary tract infection, pneumonia, endocarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart chambers and valves) or meningitis, which may require antibiotics to clear up. A persistent low-grade fever — for several weeks — with no obvious cause is characteristic of some infections, including a sinus infection, and some cancers, like lymphoma and leukemia. "Cancer is on the list of things we think about, but it is usually not the first thing," says Ronan Factora, M.D., a geriatrician at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

What else it might be: Fever can be triggered by a virus, which, depending on your health and other symptoms, may require hospitalization.

Next: Shortness of breath. »

Video Extra

Survivor: Edie Sundby, 61, has survived 5½ years after a stage IV abdominal cancer diagnosis that predicted she'd only live 3 months.  Learn more about how her spirituality has played a role in her miraculous journey.

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Health Blog

Discounts & Benefits

bring health To Life-Visual MD

AARP bookstore

AARP Bookstore - woman reaches for book on bookshelf

VISIT THE HEALTH SECTION

Find titles on brain health, drug alternatives, nutrition and losing weight. Do