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Don't ignore these warning signs

Don't ignore these warning signs
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A cough that just won’t go away, laboured breathing when you climb stairs and hoarseness can cause alarms to go off. Here’s what you need to know about these and the sometimes unexpected symptoms of lung disease.

You have swelling, pain and tenderness in one leg

You have swelling, pain and tenderness in one leg
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At first glance, this doesn’t seem like it would be among the symptoms of lung disease. But these leg problems could be a sign that you have deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in your leg, says Andrea McKee, MD. McKee sits on the American Lung Association’s (ALA) Lung Cancer Expert Medical Advisory Panel and works with the ALA’s LUNG FORCE initiative to help raise awareness and educate women about lung cancer.

The risk here is that the blood clot could break off and get into your lung, a condition called a pulmonary embolism. A clot in your lung can block blood flow and cause serious damage. Other clues include shortness of breath, problems breathing, and chest pain. (But you may also have no lung symptoms.) It’s important to get help as soon as you can because 30 percent of patients with this condition die, reports the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

You’re short of breath

You’re short of breath
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A cold or flu can really do a number on you. “If you have an underlying lung issue or if you’re under a lot of stress or dealing with a significant life event, you’re more prone to developing a bacterial infection on top of your cold,” says Dr McKee. And compromised lung function can become bacterial pneumonia or bronchitis. You’ll need a medical evaluation to determine the problem and antibiotics to recover.

Here are 15 flu myths doctors wish you’d stop believing. 

You’ve started taking the elevator instead of the stairs

You’ve started taking the elevator instead of the stairs
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If you feel as if your breathing is laboured during normal activities and you’ve developed a chronic cough (without first having a cold) or have shortness of breath, your doctor may test for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The Global Burden of Disease study reports a prevalence of 251 million cases of COPD globally, causing 3.17 million deaths (5% of all deaths globally). And on top of the diagnosed cases, many more people have no idea they have it – particularly women. Many people think that shortness of breath while walking across a car park simply happens as you age, but this isn’t a normal toll of getting older.

Look out for these 41 strange symptoms which could signal a serious disease. 

You’re wheezing

You’re wheezing
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“We tell patients that if you feel like you can’t take a deep breath, you need to see your doctor,” says Dr McKee. Your doctor will want to rule out potential diseases like COPD or even anaemia (which can be detected with a simple blood test). Another possible cause of wheezing is adult-onset asthma, which is more severe than asthma that develops in childhood, according to research in the European Respiratory Review. In fact, 10 percent of adults over 65 may have it, and it may be triggered by conditions like chronic sinusitis.

You cough up blood

You cough up blood
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This is one of the most alarming symptoms of lung disease and will likely send you straight to the doc, stat. (The blood may be bright red or more brown and mucus-y.) While this symptom can be a sign of lung cancer, says Dr McKee, it doesn’t mean you have it. Many other things can cause you to cough up blood, from the benign (a pulled abdominal muscle) to chronic bronchitis or emphysema, the Mayo Clinic notes. Regardless, this is not something to ignore or brush aside in fear of what’s really going on. Talk to your doc as soon as possible.

Read about new treatments and detection that are offering hope in the fight against lung cancer. 

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Your voice changes

Your voice changes
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Pay attention if someone comments that your voice sounds different. It might be as simple as a cold, but hoarseness that lasts more than a couple of weeks could be among the more serious symptoms of lung disease. Because people with COPD can’t hold as much air in their lungs, they could experience changes in their voice or have trouble getting the words out, according to an Egyptian study.

You have seemingly random shoulder pain

You have seemingly random shoulder pain
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In most cases, shoulder pain comes from a strained muscle or inflammation. But if you haven’t done anything to hurt your muscle and the ache lasts for weeks without any signs of letting up, you might want to see a doctor to rule out lung cancer – especially if you’re a smoker. Certain types of lung tumours can pinch the nerves that supply the shoulders, which is why some of the earliest symptoms of lung disease can include pain in the shoulders.

Your fingernails are turning blue

Your fingernails are turning blue
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COPD keeps your tissues from getting enough oxygen, which could lead to colour changes in certain body parts. Specifically, watch for cyanosis in the lips, fingernail beds and skin, which could make them turn blue, greyish, or dark purple. The colour change might start off subtle and get progressively more noticeable as the disease progresses, or it might appear suddenly during an acute COPD attack. If that’s the case, visit your doctor, pronto.

You’ve been losing weight

You’ve been losing weight
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Normally, you might cheer when the number on the scale slides down, but this isn’t necessarily cause for celebration. Between 40 and 70 percent of people with COPD experience unexpected weight loss. Those dropped kilos are a sign that the body isn’t able to work efficiently. Your body is constantly burning calories just to do basic functions like breathing, but the muscles of people with COPD need to work harder to keep up with the body’s demands, burning about ten times more calories to breathe than people without lung disease, according to the Lung Institute. Weight loss alone isn’t enough to point to lung problems, but if it’s paired with other symptoms of lung disease, you’ll want to ask your doctor to investigate.

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