11 Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

As I always tell my patients, the body is not a perfect machine. So how do you know when you can ignore a symptom and when you have to go to the doctor? Follow my cheat sheet.

Certain cold symptoms

How do you know the difference between a simple viral cold that will be with you for 5-7 days and something more serious? If you have a fever over 100.8, your nose drains yellow or green mucus or you have an unremitting headache or neck pain, head to your doctor. These might be the symptoms of serious bacterial infections that can require treatment with antibiotics.

Injuries lasting longer than two days

Let’s say you’re running and you develop a sharp pain in your knee that forces you to slow down and walk. The rule for an injury is simple: if 48 hours of ice, elevation and over-the-counter pain meds (Advil or Tylenol) don’t help—or the pain prevents you from doing daily activities—see a doctor.

Chest pain

Women often wonder about this: Could it be gas? Is it real? Is it musculoskeletal? Although there is no perfect formula, ask yourself these questions: Does it feel like someone is sitting on your chest? Are you short of breath? Is it the worst pain you have ever felt? Are you dizzy or lightheaded? If the the answer to any of those questions is yes, go to the doctor and—no matter what—ANY chest pain that doesn’t go away with an antacid or lasts longer than 20 minutes requires a medical evaluation.

The worst headache ever

Ask yourself these questions: Is it the worst headache of your life? Are your eyes sensitive in the light? Do you have neck or chest pain? If the answers to any of the questions are yes, seek medical attention.

Unremitting abdominal pain

There are many reasons women get belly pain—menstrual cramps, ovulation, gas, acid reflux, etc. Abdominal pain that is unremitting and intense requires medical attention. For example, appendix pain often comes with a fever, lethargy and nausea. Most abdominal pain is not an emergency but, if you’re not sure and the pain is intense, it’s best to have it checked out.

Blood clots

Young women on oral contraceptive pills are prone to blood clots in the legs. The estrogen in birth control pills can cause a small clot to form in the calf muscle behind your knee. This rarely happens, but needs to be noted. To avoid clots, get up and walk around every two hours after sitting at your desk, in an airplane or at home. Call your doctor immediately if your calf muscle swells or becomes red and painful. If no intervention is sought, this clot can break off and lodge in the lungs (pulmonary embolus), which can be potentially fatal.

Women are always so busy multitasking and taking care of family members that they tend to ignore symptoms until they become serious.


Here are a few other symptoms you shouldn’t ignore:


Bleeding (other than menstruation) from any site—i.e. extreme bleeding from your gums when brushing your teeth or excessive bruising on your arms and legs.


Tiredness you can’t shake, shortness of breath when walking or night sweats.


Dizziness, loss of balance or cognitive difficulties. It could be signs of a virus, serious infection or something more serious, like a benign or malignant brain tumor.


Rashes on the skin if they’re painful, itchy or tender to the touch could be shingles, poison ivy or cellulitis.


Unexplained weight loss or weight gain could be a symptom of an endocrine problem like thyroid disease or diabetes.

When evaluating your signs and symptoms, think about your own body. Only you know what is normal for you and what is aberrant. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns and always remember that almost everything is treatable. Never fear seeing a doctor—only fear not seeing one!
For more from Dr. Nancy Simpkins, read her recent columns on the site or visit her online at nancysimpkinsmd.com.


Ben Kruger