It is common for women to experience some of the following symptoms at some stage of their life. In most cases the following symptoms should not be a cause for alarm. However, these common symptoms could also be indicating towards underlying gynaecological issues that can range from benign conditions like endometriosis, which can have a significant impact on quality of life, to cancers arising from cervix, vulva, uterus or the ovaries.
This is probably the most commonly reported gynaecological symptom and can be hard to diagnose. According to Dr. Arora, with a Certified Gynaecological Oncologist, Pelvic pain can be cause by a variety of reasons, including gynaecological pathology like endometriosis or pelvic infection.
Pain related to periods and sexual intercourse is more likely to be gynaecological in origin and could be the first indication towards underlying scarring that may have resulted from endometriosis or past pelvic infection.
Contrary to popular belief, gynaecological cancers like uterine cancer or ovarian cancer do not present with pelvic pain till the time disease is quite advanced.
Abnormal bleeding from female genital tract can present as bleeding after menopause, bleeding after intercourse, bleeding between periods and heavy prolonged periods. While most of the women presenting with abnormal bleeding will be found to have a benign condition, the chances of being diagnosed with gynaecological cancer increase 5-20 fold in the presence of abnormal bleeding.
Cancer of the uterus and cancer of the cervix usually present with abnormal or unexpected vaginal bleeding.
Abdominal bloating and change in bowel habits
This is a common symptom experienced by most women, with some women experiencing these symptoms on a cyclical basis related to the timing of their periods. These symptoms may also be the only warning signs of ovarian cancer, often called the ‘silent killer’.
Ovarian cancer develops over a period of time and women may have experienced vague symptoms like feeling bloated, a feeling of weight gain or noticing altered bowel habits, like worsening constipation. Generally speaking, ovarian cancer does not cause pain and women may have ignored symptoms for a period of 3-6 months before they approach their health practitioner for a check-up.
Changes in the breast
The look, the size, and the feel of your breasts will keep changing predictably through the month. Some women would have lumps before they have their periods and for others they could feel their breast turning sensitive. However, if you notice something that is out of your usual condition then this could be because of some health issue.
A mass, rash, skin change or anything new that stays and does not go away for days could be serious and may also be a sign of breast cancer. The common signs of breast cancer are unusual redness in the skin, lumps, swelling, bumps, nodules, bloody nipple discharge and unusually asymmetrical breast are the signs of breast cancer and should be diagnosed immediately without any delay.
Vaginal bleeding that is irregular and unexpected
If you notice irregular bleeding then this could be a cause of uterine or cervical cancer. If your menstrual cycle becomes heavy and irregular and you notice spotting in between your periods then these are things that should be checked.
Any post-menopausal spotting is abnormal and some causes could be polyps which are non-cancerous. However, it is best to get them checked.
Weight gain that is sudden
If you notice any dramatic or unexplained gain in weight then this could be because of some serious health issue, unexplained weight loss could be because of cancer and weight gain could be because of thyroid issues or a warning sign of heart failure.
Bloating or swelling in your mid section that is persistent could be a symptom of ovarian cancer. Weight gain along with both your legs swelling and shortness in breath is a sign of heart failure. Rapid gain in weight, swelling, and fluid retention could mean that your heart is not able to pump fluid in the way it should normally do.
Vaginal discharge with blood
You may notice a dark, bloody and smelly discharge and this signals an infection. It could also be a warning sign of endometrial, vaginal or cervical cancer.
If you feel constant fatigue then this too should not be ignored. Busy work schedules can be tiring but that gets better once you have a little rest. However, if you feel that your tiredness is interfering with your work and your leisure activities then this is something that should be checked.
Other health conditions that are a concern in women
- Do you feel loss of appetite and feel full at all times? A change in appetite could be because of ovarian cancer and some other cancers too that may not be related to your reproductive system.
- Ongoing pain in the abdomen or any discomfort that could include gas, pressure, indigestion, cramps or bloating can signal endometrial or ovarian cancer.
- Suddenly you may notice that you wish to urinate at all times or you may feel a constant pressure in your bladder? Until you have started to drink more water because you are pregnant this is a clear indication of cancer.
- Persistent nausea or indigestion can signal gynaecological cancer. See your doctor if you feel uneasy more than usual.
- Change in your bowel habits is a sign of something external that is pressing on your colon. This could be an advance stage of gynaec cancer or some other cancer form.
- Heart palpitations that last for more than 15 minutes with weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness or loss in consciousness should be got checked. This could be an indication of atrila fibrillation which is a heart condition. In atrila fibrillation the top chamber of the heart beats more quickly than the lower chambers. When this prolongs then this could cause blood clots that start to move to the other body parts and could cause heart failure or stroke.