Shortness of breath, jaw pain, fatigue: 3 common symptoms that women shouldn’t ignore

 When women are busy taking care of everyone else, these warning signs can go unnoticed.


Between working, childcare, and yes, even scheduling doctor’s appointments for spouses and parents, that fatigue or pesky jaw pain is simply brushed off by many women.

And while many symptoms may be nothing more than a passing discomfort, there are other times when it may be a sign that there is something more serious going on.

“It’s important for women to understand that there’s no duration of a symptom that automatically makes it a red flag; other than crushing chest pain, some things can wait,” said NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar. “There are also very benign explanations for a lot of things — as well as more serious explanations.”

What’s important is to first, be aware of what you're feeling and take note of what's normal for your body, and second, seek answers from your healthcare provider when something does feel off.

Here are three symptoms that women shouldn’t ignore:

1. Shortness of breath

You may find yourself needing to catch your breath fairly often throughout the day, whether it’s after a walk up the stairs or when carrying a heavy load of laundry. When is feeling winded a cause for concern?

“If it’s a change from your pattern it’s something to take into consideration,” said Azar. “For most of us in medicine, shortness of breath and chest pain are two red-flag symptoms … it’s better to be safe than sorry. Maybe you have a new allergy and you have some asthma … but you don’t know that. What if it is a blood clot?”

Sometimes it can simply be the fact that you haven’t been exercising and your cardiovascular fitness needs some work, said Azar. Other times, it can be a sign there’s a larger issue going on.

Persistent shortness of breath can be a symptom of:

Lung issues

Heart issues

“One thing that’s really important is you think shortness of breath, you think the lungs. Not always, especially for women. You’ve got to think of something from the heart … if you’re having shortness of breath that is persisting, you also need to rule out that it’s not cardiac in origin.” Heart issues that can cause shortness of breath include:

 2. Jaw pain

Stress and grinding your teeth at night are both generally benign reasons behind why your jaw may be aching. But persistent jaw pain may also be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Heart attacks, for women especially, it doesn’t always present with chest pain,” said Azar. “You can have pain that radiates to the jaw or down the arm. So, if you’re having unexplained left-sided jaw pain, better to be safe than sorry.”

Jaw pain can be a symptom of:

  •  TMJ (the joint that connects the jaw bone to your skull)
  • Arthritis
  • Vascular problems
  • Salivary gland disorder
  • Heart attack
  • Nerve pain

 3. Frequent fatigue

You may be thinking 'What woman isn’t fatigued? What’s the difference between normal tired and fatigue that could signal a larger issue?' Azar explained that this is where it’s important to be aware of your own base energy levels — and be cognizant of any changes.

“I say this to my patients all the time, fatigue is probably the most subjective complaint because fatigue can mean something different to everyone,” said Azar, adding that many of the causes can be addressed and remedied. Anemia and thyroid disease “are usually pretty easy to diagnose and remedy;” fatigue can also be a symptom of mental issues like depression, she said, adding that a really good history by your doctor, asking you about pain, tolerance to exertion, etc. can help you get to the bottom of it.

Chronic fatigue can be a symptom of:

  • Anemia
  • Thyroid disease
  • Depression
  • Fibromyalgia & chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic kidney or liver disease
  • Chronic lung disease

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The bottom line: Listen to your body

Only you are going to know what is normal for your body. Azar urges women to listen to their intuition and push for answers if something feels off.

“Listen to your body … If you feel like something isn’t right, please get it investigated until you get your questions answered,” she said. “A good (medical) history taken by your doctor and some investigation usually can get to the bottom of most of these symptoms, (which are) usually very treatable.”