This mother of all headaches makes your bachelorette party hangover
seem laughable. If you could laugh.
The culprit: Odds are, any
jackhammering in your brain is just a migraine. But if it's not accompanied by
other migraine symptoms (such as a visual aura), sudden and severe pain—we're
talking the absolute worst headache of your life—it can signal a brain aneurysm.
These arterial bulges occur in up to 5 percent of people, but most of the time
they don't cause any trouble—you won't even know you have one unless the weak
spot leaks or tears. If that happens, escaping blood can flood the surrounding
tissue (causing a violent headache) and cut off the oxygen supply there.
Smoking and having a family history of aneurysms increase your odds.
The fix: "A burst
aneurysm can cause brain damage within minutes, so you need to call 911
immediately," says cardiologist Elsa-Grace Giardina, M.D., director of the
Center for Women's Health at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University
Medical Center. Your doctor will take a CT scan to look for bleeding in the
space around the brain. If he finds hemorrhaging, you'll head into the OR
pronto for surgery to repair the blood vessel.
Spooning your way through a pint of Chubby Hubby has become an exercise
in torture. When your teeth touch anything frosty, you feel a dull throb or
The culprit: It's likely
that the tooth's nerve has become damaged, usually because the surrounding
pearly white is cracked or rotting away. Unless you get it patched up quickly,
bacteria in your mouth can infect the nerve. And you definitely don't want that
breeding colony to spread throughout your body, says Kimberly Harms, D.D.S., a
dentist outside St. Paul, Minn.
The fix: Time for a cavity
check! You may just need a filling to cover the exposed nerve. But if it's
infected, you're in for a root canal, in which the tooth's bacteria-laden pulp
is removed and replaced with plastic caulking material. Antibiotics can clear
up any infection that has spread beyond the mouth.
A typical runner's side stitch pales in comparison to this piercing
stab, which intensifies over a few hours or days.
The culprit: You may just
need some Beano. But if you feel as if you're being skewered in your right side
and you're also nauseated and running a fever, you could have appendicitis. It
occurs when something (like a stray piece of feces) migrates into the space
where the appendix empties into the colon, blocking it. Soon the organ becomes
dangerously inflamed. Another possibility is an ovarian cyst. Typically these
fluid-filled sacs are harmless and disappear on their own. But if one twists or
ruptures, it can cause terrible pain.
The fix: In both cases,
you're looking at emergency surgery. "If you don't remove an inflamed appendix,
it can burst," says Lin Chang, M.D., a gastroenterologist and co-director
of UCLA's Center for Neurovisceral Sciences and Women's Health. This can cause
dangerous swelling of the tissue surrounding your organs. A twisted cyst also
needs to be removed right away, as it can block bloodflow to your ovary within
hours. If that happens, the doctor will need to cut out the entire ovary (and
the eggs inside) along with the cyst.
Periodically, you get what feels like a bad case of heartburn, or a
tight squeezing sensation, as if you're being laced into a corset.
The culprit: You probably
just peppered your pizza with too many chilis. But if you know you're at risk
for heart problems, don't blow it off—it could be a heart attack. Every year,
about 10,000 women under 45 have one. Symptoms tend to be less severe in women
than in men, so "you may just feel pressure, along with fatigue, throat
pain or shortness of breath," Giardina says.
The fix: Feel the burn after
feasting on chalupas? Normal. Feel as if you're being squeezed to death by a
boa constrictor after a hard workout? Not normal. In younger women, a heart
attack usually happens when you're working up a sweat. If that's the case, dial
911. Your doc will do an EKG to determine whether your heart has been damaged,
then decide on the best treatment, whether it's clot-attacking drugs or surgery
to clear your arteries.
For the past month, you've felt gassy and bloated more days than not,
and it takes fewer slices of pizza to fill you up than it used to.
The culprit: Who hasn't
sometimes felt like an overinflated balloon—especially right before your
period? But if it happens often and the problem is new, the worst-case scenario
is ovarian cancer. In 2007 the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation released the first
national consensus on early symptoms: They include bloating, pelvic or
abdominal pain, and difficulty eating. If you start experiencing them almost
daily for more than two or three weeks, raise a red flag.
Ovarian cancer isn't as common as breast or lung cancer (about 1 in 70
women will get it during their lives), but your risk is higher if you have a
family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or if you've never been pregnant.
The fix: Book an appointment
with your ob-gyn to talk about your symptoms. If she suspects cancer, she'll
send you to a gynecologic oncologist for an ultrasound or a CT scan to check
for a tumor. The good news: Five-year survival rates for ovarian cancer are 90
percent in women who are diagnosed early.
No amount of Advil or heating pads can ease this backache. Your feet
may also feel numb.
The culprit: If you've just
helped your cousin move into her new fourth-floor apartment,
anti-inflammatories should banish the pain. But if they don't work, hobble to
an orthopedist. "You could have a disc (one of the spongy rings that
cushions the bones in your spine) pressing on the spinal nerve," says
Letha Griffin, M.D., an orthopedist and sports-medicine specialist in Atlanta.
Without proper attention, you risk permanent nerve damage. And it's hard to do
the mambo if you can't feel your feet.
The fix: An X-ray or MRI can
show whether a disc in your back has slipped or ruptured. As long as the
numbness isn't getting worse, your doctor will probably prescribe physical
therapy along with oral steroids or NSAIDs to reduce nerve inflammation. But if
you're still laid up after a few months, you may need surgery to remove the
Your calf is extremely tender in one location, noticeably swollen, and
red or warm to the touch.
The culprit: If one of your
calves is on fire, you might have deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT, also known as a
blood clot. Here's how it usually happens: A flight to Tokyo or a deadline at
work keeps you glued to your chair for hours. Blood starts to pool in your
lower body and forms a clot. When it gets big enough to act as a stopper in the
vein or artery, the area around it will start to hurt and swell. Smokers and
women who take the Pill have a higher risk of developing clots.
The fix: Resist the urge to
massage the area or to walk it off. If the clot breaks free, it can travel
through your veins up to your lungs and cut off your oxygen supply. Instead,
see your doctor, who will do a CT scan or ultrasound to look for DVT. If you
have a clot, you'll need to take blood thinners—sometimes for up to a year—to
dissolve it, says Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., director of women and heart disease
at the Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.