5 Common Symptoms the Elderly Should Never Ignore

As you age, there are many natural changes that the body goes through. With increasing age, many people tend to simply dismiss unusual or abnormal symptoms as being a part of the normal aging process. However, there are certain symptoms that the elderly should never ignore. New symptoms could always be a potential sign of a more serious underlying health condition. This is why it is so important to have it checked out. Here are 5 some common symptoms the elderly should never ignore.

5 Common Symptoms the Elderly Should Never Ignore

1. Constipation

With age, many people often experience changes in their bowel movement patterns. Constipation can cause a person to push excessively and strain while having a bowel movement. This strain, especially in the elderly, increases the risk of developing hemorrhoids.(1)

Straining while having a bowel movement can cause the veins in the lower rectum and the anus to swell. These inflamed veins are known as hemorrhoids or piles.

Hemorrhoids can cause the following symptoms:

  • Swelling around the anus
  • Bleeding during bowel movements
  • Pain or discomfort around the anus
  • Itching or irritation around the anus

Hemorrhoids are quite a common problem in the elderly due to constipation. If you find yourself experiencing unusual pain during a bowel movement or any of the other symptoms, it is necessary to have it checked out.(2)

While occasional constipation is normal in everyone, it becomes more common after the age of 50.(3) However, constipation in the elderly could also be a sign that something is blocking the stool from exiting the body normally. This could also be a polyp, a tumor, or some other type of obstruction.

In rare cases, chronic constipation can lead to a hard stool to block up the intestine and rectum in such a tight manner that usual pushing is not going to be enough to expel the stool. This condition is known as fecal impaction, and it might require surgery to remove the stool.

If you are experiencing persistent constipation, then it is essential to see a doctor. Your doctor will prescribe the necessary treatment, which will ease constipation and also prevent the condition from worsening.(4)

2. Black or Bloody Stools

Another serious symptom is having black or bloody stools. The color of the stool changes on a daily basis and depends on many factors, such as the food you eat and the medications you are on. For example, certain anti-diarrheal drugs and iron supplements can turn the color of your stool black or cause tarry stools.

While green or brown stools are considered normal, black or bloody stools should never be ignored as it could be a sign of a more severe problem.

Black stool is an indication that there is bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, while blood in the stool is a sign that there is bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract.(5, 6)

You should consult your doctor if you are having bloody or black stools. Your doctor will check for the presence of conditions such as hemorrhoids, ulcers, diverticulitis, and other gastrointestinal diseases.

3. Sudden Issues with Balance and Coordination or Speech

Unlike how they show in the movies, a heart attack or stroke does not always mean that you will experience pain in the chest. There are many subtle symptoms of a stroke that should never be ignored.(7) Some of the potential symptoms include having a sudden loss of balance and coordination or suddenly experiencing problem with walking.

Some other symptoms could include:

  • Having difficulties with your speech
  • Feeling extremely dizzy
  • Slurring of words
  • Changes in your vision
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs, face, or arms

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical assistance. If a person is having a stroke or a heart attack, then early medical attention can help prevent or limit long-term complications.

4. Chronic Shortness of Breath

While feeling short of breath after doing some physical activity is normal, but feeling out of breath after the slightest of work could be a warning sign. In the elderly, shortness of breath can sometimes be an early symptom of a complete or partial blockage of the main artery that supplies blood to the heart. This condition is known as coronary ischemia.(8, 9) Both a partial and complete blockage of this main artery can lead to a heart attack.

It is essential that you do not dismiss this symptom simply because you are not feeling any chest pain. Chest pain is only one of the many possible signs of a heart attack, and these symptoms vary from person to person.

If you are experiencing chronic or unusual shortness of breath, then it is important to let your doctor know at the earliest. You should seek immediate medical assistance if you develop any of these additional symptoms as well:

5. Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding After Menopause

In older women, experiencing vaginal bleeding after menopause is considered to be an unusual symptom that should not be ignored. While in most cases, it is not a sign of any severe condition, but if there is bleeding without any apparent reason or if it happens repeatedly, then it is essential to see your doctor.

There are several conditions that may cause postmenopausal bleeding. These include:

  • Polyps
  • Endometrial atrophy, or the thinning of the uterine lining
  • Endometrial hyperplasia, or the thickening of the uterine lining
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Certain medications, such as hormone therapy, blood thinners, tamoxifen, etc.
  • Vaginal atrophy, or the thinning of the vaginal tissue
  • Cancer

Since postmenopausal bleeding could be a sign of gynecological cancer, it is important to see your doctor.(10)

Conclusion

If you experience any unusual or a new symptom, and it tends to persist, then it is better to consult your doctor. While most cases are usually nothing serious, but sometimes it could be a potential symptom of a more serious health condition. Early diagnosis and treatment makes a huge difference in the outcome of the disease and also avoid any possible complications.

References:

  1. CRH O’Regan System. 2020. Constipation And Hemorrhoids | CRH O’regan System. [online] Available at: <https://www.crhsystem.com/hemorrhoids/how-constipation-can-cause-hemorrhoids/> [Accessed 9 April 2020].
  2. Consumer HealthDay. 2020. Seniors And Hemorrhoids. [online] Available at: <https://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/digestive-health-14/digestion-health-news-200/seniors-and-hemorrhoids-647501.html> [Accessed 9 April 2020].
  3. Read, N.W., Celik, A.F. and Katsinelos, P., 1995. Constipation and incontinence in the elderly. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 20(1), pp.61-70.
  4. Schaefer, D.C. and Cheskin, L.J., 1998. Constipation in the elderly. American family physician, 58(4), p.907.
  5. Akhtar, A.J., 2003. Lower gastrointestinal bleeding in elderly patients. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 4(6), pp.320-322.
  6. Yachimski, P.S. and Friedman, L.S., 2008. Gastrointestinal bleeding in the elderly. Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 5(2), pp.80-93.
  7. Robinson, T.G., Reid, A., Haunton, V.J., Wilson, A. and Naylor, A.R., 2013. The face arm speech test: does it encourage rapid recognition of important stroke warning symptoms?. Emergency Medicine Journal, 30(6), pp.467-471.
  8. Kurita, A., Takase, B., Uehata, A., Maruyama, T., Nishioka, T., Sugahara, H., Mizuno, K., Isojima, K. and Satomura, K., 1991. Painless myocardial ischemia in elderly patients compared with middle‐aged patients and its relation to treadmill testing and coronary hemodynamics. Clinical cardiology, 14(11), pp.886-890.
  9. Ochiai, M.E., Lopes, N.H., Buzo, C.G. and Pierri, H., 2014. Atypical manifestation of myocardial ischemia in the elderly. Arquivos brasileiros de cardiologia, 102(3), p.31.
  10. Utswmed.org. 2020. Bleeding After Menopause: It’S Not Normal | Cancer | UT Southwestern Medical Center. [online] Available at: <https://utswmed.org/medblog/postmenopausal-bleeding/> [Accessed 9 April 2020].

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