12 signs you may need a health makeover
Juggling a career, family and social life leaves little down time for the aches and pains of daily life. Yet, ignoring some of these symptoms could lead to bigger health issues down the road. If you feel tired, sad, have no interest in sex or find yourself popping ibuprofen for daily headaches, it may be time for a new approach. Experts tell how to interpret the signs it's time to give yourself a health makeover.
--By Linda Melone for MSN Healthy Living
You feel sad for no reason
Sadness that may seem to occur out of the blue usually has a sound basis behind it, says Ernest J. Bordini, Ph.D., psychologist and executive director of Clinical Psychology Associates of Central Florida. "It's often associated with a loss, which can be as simple as being too busy to follow up on having coffee with a friend or with a major transition, such as children going off to college," Bordini said.
Women are 70 percent more likely to experience depression in their lifetime than men, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. Bordini suggests seeing a doctor for a medical assessment to rule out physical causes such as thyroid issues. Counseling and medications may be prescribed to help in cases of clinical depression, which include sadness that persists for more than a couple of weeks and is accompanied by symptoms such as appetite or sleep changes, frequent crying and loss of libido.
You have zero interest in sex
The desire for sex waxes and wanes for women over the years and can vary depending on life changes such as pregnancy, menopause or illness. Medications such as antidepressants can also lower libido. "Women differ in their sex drives and loss of libido can be associated with many factors," says Bordini. Anemia, low thyroid, hormonal changes, and other medical causes can produce loss of libido, for example. Stress may also reduce interest in sex, as can fatigue and lack of sleep.
If your lack of sexual desire becomes an issue, talk to your doctor to rule out a physical cause or any medication side effects, says Bordini. Then try lifestyle changes such as exercise. "Sometimes loss of libido can reflect a signal or message that a couple is not attending enough to the relationship itself, that there is a need for some creativity or reinvestment," says Bordini.
Your joints ache
Knee pain after a night of dancing or shoulder pain after spending hours on the computer may be simple muscle strains or something more serious such as osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia. Both fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis affect more women than men. Women comprise 80 to 90 percent of fibromyalgia patients (a chronic disease characterized by tender points in the muscle); osteoarthritis affects 26 percent of women versus 18 percent of men. "Figuring out the cause requires finding the origin of the pain," says Howard Schubiner, M.D., director of the Mind Body Medicine Center at Providence Hospital, Southfield, Mich. "If it's actually in the joint your doctor should check for disorders of the joint such as arthritis or a trauma-induced joint disease. If the pain is more in the muscle areas, it is less likely (but not impossible) for it to be a joint problem."
Most muscle pain is due to muscle pulls or strains and should improve with rest and simple measures, says Schubiner. "Chronic muscle pain is more likely to be caused by fibromyalgia, but there are some other disorders that need to be ruled out first by a visit to your doctor."
You're tired by midday
A high-carb lunch may not be the only reason you're falling asleep at your desk by mid-afternoon. Tiredness and fatigue not relieved by sleep may be a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome, which most often occurs in women ages 30 to 50. Anemia, low thyroid, depression and lack of sleep may also contribute to fatigue, says Schubiner. "Simple blood tests can rule out the first two and a concerted effort at getting enough sleep will usually take care of mild fatigue."
Mid-day fatigue can occur due to skipping breakfast (or lunch), too many sweets or not getting a balanced diet with enough protein. See a doctor if your fatigue lasts for six months or longer and is not relieved by bed rest.
Your knees hurt
Painful knees after a run or when walking down stairs could be due to a wide range of reasons. In general, biomechanics (e.g. wider hips) and hormonal fluctuations make women more likely to suffer knee injuries than their male counterparts. "Osteoarthritis of the knee is also more common in women between the ages of 40 and 50," says Abby Abelson, M.D., chair of the department of Rheumatic & Immunologic Diseases at Cleveland Clinic.
Women are also more prone to certain conditions such as tendonitis and ACL (knee stabilizing ligaments) injuries, says Anna M. Lasak, M.D., assistant professor at The Arthur S. Abramson Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Montefiore Medical Park in the Bronx, N.Y. To prevent knee injuries, Lasak recommends wearing supportive running shoes, progressing your exercise routine gradually and avoiding running on hard surfaces by choosing grass or sand over concrete.
Your head aches
An all-day meeting, deadlines up to here and now hubby just invited the boss for dinner -- tonight. Who wouldn't get a headache? "Tension-type headaches are most common, but migraines are the most common type of headache that brings a person into the doctor's office," says Brian M. Grosberg, M.D., director of the Montefiore Headache Center in the Bronx. "Women are affected by migraines nearly three times more often than men." Migraines differ from tension headaches in several ways: migraines typically affect one side of the face, where tension headaches occur on both sides of the head. Migraines also produce pulsating or throbbing, light and/or sound sensitivity and nausea and vomiting, which tension headaches do not.
While a stressful day can trigger a headache, a change in the pattern of your headaches may be cause for concern, says Grosberg. Other red flags include the sudden onset of pain, where a headache comes on with maximum intensity all at once, a headache that occurs only during certain body positions, headaches provoked by certain activities or a progression of the number of headaches over time.
You can't make it up a flight of stairs without wheezing
You take the stairs at work to get in a few minutes of cardio, but by the time you reach the top you're out of breath and wheezing. Are you just out of shape -- or could it be something more serious such as asthma? For women, the phase of the menstrual cycle could be a contributing factor. A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine links greater wheezing and coughing on days 10 to 22 of a woman's menstrual cycle, showing a potential connection between hormonal changes and respiratory symptoms.
"Wheezing is a common symptom for those with varying types of asthma," says Dr. David R. Nelson, board-certified pulmonologist at Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Wittier, Calif. Wheezing from asthma can be brought on by exercise or an allergy. "Wheezing can also appear temporarily after a respiratory infection, but if persistent would merit a trip to the doctor," says Nelson.
You get stress fractures from Zumba
These tiny cracks in the bone are one of the most common sports injuries in women and typically occur in the foot, pelvis, tibia or femur, says Dr. Lasak. In some cases they could indicate osteoporosis. "While a bone density test will not be considered necessary for all women with stress fractures, the presence of risk factors for osteopenia or osteoporosis (e.g. heredity, a prior eating disorder) will likely require a bone scan," says Lasak. An evaluation may also include a nutritional assessment as well as a vitamin D and calcium level check.
To prevent stress fractures, Lasak recommends women buy new athletic shoes every six months (worn shoes don't have adequate shock absorption properties), develop healthy eating habits and check vitamin D levels regularly.
You just don't feel right
A vague, uneasy, anxious feeling may simply be stress, but for women at high risk, it could also be a symptom of an impending heart attack. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death among women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Feelings of anxiety and uneasiness prior to an imminent heart attack are likely due to the body's response to any type of fight or flight syndrome, says Dr. David Frid, cardiologist with the Cleveland Clinic. "Your blood pressure may go up and you may feel flushed and a little more anxious overall." In addition, women are more likely to experience shoulder or back pain than men.
See a doctor if the symptoms persist, become more severe or if you have these risk factors: you're menopausal, have a family history, high cholesterol or are obese. "Know your risk factors and be proactive by doing what you can to reduce your risk," says Frid.