As we get older, our bodies do change and it's tempting to keep quiet or assume 'it's just an age thing'. However, just because ageing is a fact of life, it is always important to get symptoms checked out when they arise.
They may be a sign of something serious. Of course, it’s important to emphasise that the likelihood is, there are other explanations. However, you do still need to get these symptoms checked out to put your mind at rest and in certain cases, get treatment fast.
#1. Postmenopausal bleeding
Why you need to get it checked: Endometrial (womb) cancer
During the menopause, it's common for periods to become irregular before stopping altogether. After 12 months of no periods, you are considered to be in the 'postmenopausal' category. If vaginal bleeding occurs after this, it could be a cause for concern.
One in 10 women who experience postmenopausal bleeding will have womb cancer, so if it's not something to have a 'wait and see' approach to. There are of course other things that can cause this kind of bleeding, including inflammation and thinning of the lining of the womb, non-cancerous cervical polyps, and endometrial hyperplasia. Endometrial hyperplasia is the thickening of the lining of the womb and is sometimes a side effect of high levels of oestrogen, or from being overweight. This can sometimes go on to become endometrial cancer, so regardless of the potential cause, it's always worth seeing a doctor who specialises in gynaecological cancer treatment.
#2. Breast pain or dimpling
Why you need to get it checked: Breast cancer
The rates of breast cancer in the UK have risen almost 20% since the 1990s, and almost half of all cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 65. The three most important factors that can determine a person's individual risk of developing breast cancer are family history, gender and age, with 81% of breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50.
Checking your breasts regularly will ensure you spot any changes early and therefore can get it assess by a doctor. Chances are it's nothing, but if the skin texture on all or part of your breasts change (i.e. dimples or puckers), you notice a lump, you get a rash around the nipple, or you experience pain in your breast or armpit it's best to get your breasts checked by a specialist. For more information about the signs of breast cancer click here.
Women aged between 50 and 70 years old are invited for a mammogram every three years in the UK, or from a younger age if you have a higher than average risk of developing the condition. Attending these appointments, as well as regular breast checks, is the best way to keep on top of any potential changes that might occur.
#3. Pain and swelling in your legs
Why you need to get it checked: Blood clot/DVT
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that usually develops in a deep vein in the leg. Being over the age of 60 can dramatically increase your risk of developing DVT, as does some medications for menopausal symptoms like HRT. Women who have a history of blood clots or venous thrombosis should discuss the effect hormone therapy could have on their risk.
If you experience pain, swelling, tenderness or redness at the back of the leg, especially if you have taken a long journey in the past few days, visit a doctor as soon as possible. While DVT can be treated, the longer it is left, the higher the chance of the clot travelling up to your lungs and causing a pulmonary embolism.
You're at the greatest risk of DVT when travelling or staying sedentary for long periods of time. Your GP will be able to discuss what you can do to reduce your risk of developing a clot, including simple exercises and compression stockings.
#4. Flu-like symptoms
Why you need to get it checked: Heart attack
While you may just have the flu or a virus, it's important to remember that women don't always experience the same symptoms as men when having a heart attack. The most commonly associated symptom, chest pain, may be present but not severe.
Symptoms that should raise red flags include upper back discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and unusual fatigue. Sadly, without the presence of extreme chest pains, many people might not realise that their symptoms could be fatal and even A&E doctors have been criticised recently for missing the early warning signs of heart problems, so do make it clear to your doctor if you have concerns.
#5. Joint pain and fractures
Why you need to get it checked: Osteoporosis
Unless you play a lot of contact sports or are particularly clumsy, osteoporosis is something that all women should be aware of, especially if they're going through the menopause. Oestrogen plays an important role in the maintenance of healthy bones, so menopause can cause a significant drop in bone density. Almost half of all women in the UK over the age of 50 are likely to experience fractures due to osteoporosis.
If you're concerned about your risk of osteoporosis, you can have a test called a DEXA scan which measures your bone density levels. Look for a scanner with the latest DEXA technology and expert analysis from an expert to decode your risk factors.
#6. Blood in your poo
Why you need to get it checked: Bowel cancer
There are a number of reasons why you might have blood in your poo (stool), ranging from completely harmless to potentially life threatening. There are generally two types of bloody stool; black, tarry stool where blood is coming from the upper digestive tract, and red stool where the blood is coming from closer to the anus. When it's bright red, the most common cause is from haemorrhoids, but very dark blood is much more concerning.
Bowel cancer (also known as rectal or colon cancer) is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, and blood in your stool is one of the most noticeable symptoms. It's commonly referred to as a 'Western disease' because it's heavily influenced by lifestyle factors including diet and weight. However, 90% of bowel cancer cases occur in people over the age of 60. Although bowel cancer is more common in men, women shouldn't assume it can't happen to them.
It's also worth noting that women who have had a hysterectomy are at a greater risk of developing colon cancer (19% higher) and rectal cancer (28% higher). If you're concerned, speak to your GP about a referral.
#7. Pelvic pain
Why you need to get it checked: Ovarian cancer
Pelvic pain is never something that should be ignored. Regardless of the cause, it's something that should be addressed to rule out possible health concerns, as well as improve your quality of life. One possible cause could be the early symptoms of ovarian cancer. Although you might assume that ovarian cancer is more common among women of reproductive age, 53% of cases are diagnosed in women aged 65 and over. Other sources have suggested that up to two-thirds of cases occur in with aged 55 or older.
Other symptoms include a change in your bowel habits, indigestion and nausea, fatigue, and like womb cancer, vaginal bleeding after menopause. Talk to a doctor who is expert in managing pelvic pain.
The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods ceaseFull medical glossary