Health Check

As you age, your risk for many illnesses and conditions increases, including everything from hearing loss to more serious problems such as heart and kidney disease. Having an annual physical exam is one important step toward ensuring that any health problems that may occur are caught early on — before major complications develop. 

It’s also important to be alert to changes in your body and how you’re feeling that may signal something is amiss, and to know when it’s necessary to see your healthcare provider to have these symptoms checked out.

Some symptoms that you should never ignore — along with what they might actually mean — follow.

Chest Pain
There are many kinds of chest pain, along with different reasons it may occur, ranging from minor (gas buildup in the abdomen) to life-threatening (a signal that a heart attack is imminent or occurring).

Chest pain can feel like a sharp stab, a dull ache or a feeling of pressure, as if your chest is being squeezed. The pain can also move up into your neck and/or jaw and then down into your back or your arms. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), this can occur when the heart muscle fails to get enough oxygen-rich blood because one or more coronary artery is clogged. 

A lung infection, a pulmonary embolism and even a panic attack may also cause chest pain, as can other types of heart disease. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell by the type of chest pain you are experiencing what’s causing it —  and something as serious as a heart attack can easily be mistaken for indigestion. Therefore, the AHA recommends having any type of chest pain checked out by your provider immediately, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms of heart failure, such as those listed as you read on. 

Wheezing, Coughing and Trouble Breathing
All of these symptoms may indicate heart failure, particularly if they are occurring in combination with chest pain. However, they may also signal problems with the lungs, such as emphysema, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis or pneumonia. According to the Mayo Clinic, wheezing indicates a narrowing of the airways that may also be caused by inflammation from a variety of factors such as asthma, an infection, an allergic reaction, or a physical obstruction, such as a tumor or foreign object. 

Whatever the cause, your provider should investigate.

Weakness in Your Arms and Legs, Leg Discomfort and Fatigue
There are literally hundreds of conditions that may cause weakness and fatigue, along with leg discomfort. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), five percent of adults ages 60 and older had weak muscle strength and 13 percent had intermediate muscle strength, with the prevalence increasing with age. 

Guillain-Barre is a rare nerve disorder that causes weakness in the legs, as does multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome. Some medications, sleep disorders, depression and chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart, lung and kidney disease may also cause these symptoms. However, bear in mind that lack of use will also cause muscles to weaken and sap your energy, so a sedentary lifestyle may be another reason you are feeling this way. Consider it a wake-up call and consult your provider to make sure you are not experiencing something more serious.

Blood in Your Urine or Stool
There are numerous conditions associated with blood in urine or on stool — ranging from hemophilia to hemorrhoids. While some causes may be irritating, such as an anal fissure from passing large or hard stools, others can be life-threatening, such as bleeding due to some forms of cancer or stomach bleeding resulting from aspirin use. 

Blood in the stool sometimes looks like coffee grounds, or makes the stool dark and tarry. Report such changes — as well as the presence of fresh blood — to your provider. 

Vision Problems
Blurred vision can also be a symptom of numerous conditions, including cataracts, diabetes, high blood pressure and multiple sclerosis. The American Optometric Association notes that some medications — such as those taken for high cholesterol, anxiety or depression and arthritis — can also cause vision to blur. 

Because vision problems can be dangerous, and because they may be symptomatic of something much more serious, it’s important to bring this symptom to the attention of both an eye doctor and a primary care physician.