As we get older, we expect that our body may not work as well as when we were in our 20s. So, how do we know when an ailment or annoyance is more than just “getting old?” How do you know if the body aches are more than just old bones or the exhaustion is more than just needing more rest?
If you or your parent notices any health change, you should definitely bring it up with your doctor, and sometimes, you need to act as your own health advocate. Some patients have struggled to find a doctor who will take their symptoms seriously and instead will write them off as a sign of aging.
I read about a woman who had a “pimple” that turned out to be a rare skin cancer. Her doctors dismissed it but she asked to have it removed for vanity and it turned out to be much more than a vanity issue. Sometimes, we have to go with our gut and push for more testing.
Here are some symptoms that we mistakenly associate with aging that could be more serious.
1. Vision Changes: It is common to have changes in vision as we get older, but a sudden change in vision could mean something more significant. Changes in vision could indicate diabetes, stroke, Sjogren’s syndrome or it could be a side effect from medication.
2. Fatigue: We assume that we are just more tired as we get older, but that may not be the case. Fatigue, particularly if there hasn’t been a change in sleep or activity, could be a sign of diabetes, depression or conditions such as anemia, heart disease or sleep apnea, among others. If you suddenly feel too tired to maintain your daily activities, you should consult your doctor to determine if there is an underlying cause.
3. Changes to Skin: Our skin changes with age, but some changes could be a sign of something more serious. A rash on the tops of feet or legs could indicate Hepatitis C, or a rash could indicate an allergic reaction to a medication. New growths could indicate skin cancer or yellow or waxy bumps could indicate high triglycerides or uncontrolled diabetes. Skin discoloration could indicate a liver condition or an adrenal disease. Any significant change in skin color, texture or new growths should be checked out by a dermatologist to be sure it isn’t something serious.
4. Changes in appearance of nail ridges: Did you know that the appearance of your nails can indicate a health problem? Very pale nails can indicate anemia, congestive heart failure, liver disease or malnutrition. Yellow nails can indicate a fungal infection, or in some cases, thyroid disease, lung disease or diabetes. Bluish nails could indicate a lung problem and cracked nails could indicate thyroid disease. Not all changes to nail appearance are a sign of a serious condition, but you should definitely see a dermatologist if you notice a change.
If you suspect that a new condition or physical change is more than just aging, you should see your doctor. But, what can you do if your doctor dismisses it as old age and you are concerned that it is something more significant?
1. Get another opinion: If your doctor isn’t taking your concerns seriously, consult another doctor. When I was first diagnosed with my autoimmune disease, I was extremely fortunate to have a wonderful general practitioner who ran testing immediately, rather than dismissing my concerns as being a new mom. From the time I saw her until the time I started treatment, it was probably 4-6 months. I was lucky. When I was researching my condition, I read so many stories about patients who spent years trying to get a proper diagnosis. Their doctors dismissed their symptoms and didn’t perform simple testing that could provide a diagnosis. I can’t express enough how important it is to have a good doctor on your side.
2. Be prepared and do your research: Obviously, your online research doesn’t come close to years of training and potentially decades of practicing medicine. However, if you have some ideas of what these symptoms could be tied to, and you come armed with your symptoms, a timeline of when you noticed that changes and medical history, it can help your doctor determine what he or she is looking for. Remember, a typical medical appointment lasts 15 minutes so make the most of your time.
3. Ask for a referral: If you are seeing a general practitioner, they may only be able to get your so far. A good doctor will then refer you to a specialist to keep the ball rolling. If your doctor doesn’t offer a referral, ask for one.
4. Bring an advocate with you: If you are concerned that your doctor won’t take symptoms seriously, bring someone with you who can support you and ask questions you may not ask or share information you may not think is worth sharing.
While receiving a bad medical diagnosis is something no one wants to deal with, the alternative is far worse. The worry of whether there is something wrong, and not having a condition treated can be far worse for you. If you suspect a condition, be your own advocate.
Was there a time when you had to push for a diagnosis?