When probed about the scariest diseases, many doctors point to ones that disguise their warning signs. Known as silent killers, they’re characterized by subtle symptoms that often go undetected. In women, these stealthy life-threatening illnesses strike up to 10 million each year and kill over 100,000.
The following are 5 silent killers in women along and their symptoms.
Uterine cancer develops in the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. The most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding, including unusually heavy periods, spotting between periods or any post-menopausal bleeding.
What’s tricky is that irregular menstrual bleeding affects more than half of all women at some point and usually has benign causes. Still, abnormal bleeding can signal cancer and should be brought to your doctor’s attention. They’ll conduct a pelvic exam and Pap smear, and may take a tissue sample or perform a pelvic ultrasound, all very effective ways of screening for uterine cancer.
Symptoms of uterine cancer
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Abnormal vaginal discharge or odor
- Weight gain or loss
- New acne
- Deepened voice
- Increased hair growth
- Severe pain
The primary culprit lurking behind liver cancer is hepatitis, an inflammation that affects 100 million people globally. Hepatitis is caused by certain viruses, as well as too much alcohol or drugs, including over-the-counter acetaminophen.
Here are common types of viral hepatitis:
Hepatitis A is generally transmitted through contaminated foods or water; travelers to affected areas can be vaccinated for it.
Hepatitis B can be passed on sexually, or through infected blood via transfusions, needles or mother/child transmission. Most babies born in the US receive the Hep B vaccine.
Hepatitis C is also obtained via sexual contact, blood transfusions, needles, or during childbirth. No vaccine exists.
Many people with hepatitis have no signs of infection, while others may experience fatigue, muscle aches, jaundice, etc. Hepatitis often has silent symptoms that remain so for up to 20 years. If you’ve experienced any of the symptoms listed below, have your doctor run a simple blood test to check for hepatitis.
Symptoms of hepatitis
- Muscle aches
- Jaundice/yellow skin
- Pale stools
- Dark urine
- Low-grade fever
Until recently, doctors viewed ovarian cancer as the deadliest silent killer in women, as it is usually discovered after spreading beyond the primary tumor site. But new evidence shows symptoms can indeed appear early on.
The warning signs of ovarian cancer mock common conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, stress and depression. If you have any symptoms (see below) for longer than a couple weeks, call your doctor. You’ll undergo a physical exam and perhaps a blood test, ultrasound or biopsy. Women diagnosed in the early stages of ovarian cancer have a 5-year survival rate of nearly 93 percent.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
- Increased abdominal size
- Abdominal pain
- Pelvic pain
- Difficulty eating
- Feeling full quickly
For more information on detecting ovarian cancer, click here.
A heart attack, or Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI), is the #1 killer in women. New research indicates that symptoms can manifest up to a month or more beforehand. What’s surprising is that less than 30% of women reported chest pain prior to their attack, and 45% had no chest pain during any phase of the episode. Fatigue was the most pronounced symptom, followed by sleep disturbance and shortness of breath.
If you have risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or excess body weight, see your doctor, who’ll run a complete physical and may want to conduct a stress echocardiogram.
A healthy diet and regular exercise program can play an enormous role in reducing your heart attack risk. For more information on detecting and preventing heart attacks, click here.
Symptoms of a heart attack
- Heavy feeling in the chest
- Pain in jaw, arm, or upper back
Shortness of breath
- Heat or Sweating
- Unusual fatigue
- Sleep disturbance
HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
HPV, human papillomavirus, is not only the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), but it’s also a major risk factor for cervical cancer which presents with symptoms including abnormal vaginal bleeding, don’t appear until very late in the game.
In 90% of cases, the immune system clears HPV within 2 years. More than 40 types of sexually-transmitted HPV exist. Certain types give rise to genital warts or warts in the throat, a condition called recurrent respiratory pappillomatosis (RRP).
Hearly 100% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV, mainly types HPV16 and HPV 18. Often no warning signs appear at all. Therefore regular Pap tests are critical to detect any abnormal cells on the cervix. Additionally 2 vaccines for high-risk HPV are available to protect women and girls. For a comprehensive rundown on HPV, click here.
Symptoms of HPV
- Genital lesions or warts
- Oral or respiratory lesions
- Common, plantar or flat warts