Over 40? Here Are 40 Health Symptoms You Need to Know About
Find out which of those aches and pains you can't let slide.
While there are plenty of things to love about getting older—deeper relationships, perspective gained, and more money saved up—one unfortunate part of the aging process is new aches that continuously crop up. And while a sore back or stiff knee could just be decades of wear and tear catching up with you, not every new pain is so innocuous—especially as we pay extra attention to our health these days. That unusual fatigue could be a sign of a heart issue, that tingling sensation in your hands could be carpal tunnel, and that itchy skin could be signaling kidney disease. Herein, we've rounded up some of the surprising symptoms that everyone over 40 should be aware of. And for more helpful health advice, don't miss these 40 Easy Tweaks to Boost Your Health After 40.
Loss of smell
If you're losing your sense of smell, that may mean memory loss isn't far behind. One study published in JAMA Neurology found an association between a gradual loss in the ability to identify common smells and an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease and dementia. That's because the olfactory bulb—which is the structure in the brain responsible for interpreting incoming scents—is one of the first parts affected by many neurodegenerative diseases.
New loss of smell and taste is also a symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the CDC. Some other common coronavirus side effects include: shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, and pressure in the chest. Although adults of any age can contract coronavirus, those over 65 are most likely to be hospitalized.
Unfortunately, many of the symptoms of this disease—especially in its early stages—are not overt, like bloating and belly pain. Since these same inconveniences can be caused by everything from indigestion to food intolerances, women rarely think they could be the result of something as serious as cancer. And since cancer is often hiding in plain sight, make sure you know about these 20 Most Commonly Overlooked Cancer Symptoms.
Falling is increasingly common as we age. In fact, fall-related traumatic brain injuries alone account for more than 140,000 emergency department visits among older adults every year in the United States. Some of the cognitive concussion symptoms like confusion, moodiness, and memory problems mimic the natural aging process, so it's not uncommon for both patients and doctors to brush them off.
If you are involved in a fall or any sort of accident and begin to experience fogginess or moodiness, make sure to get yourself checked out by a professional immediately to rule out any serious brain trauma.
Unintentional weight loss
Losing weight is only something to celebrate if you need to shed a few pounds and are actively trying to do so. Otherwise, that unintentional weight loss could be a symptom of something serious, like type 2 diabetes.
"If you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn't use insulin effectively, and can't transport the glucose to the cells," according to Sue Cotey, RN, and Andrea Harris, RN, nurses with the Cleveland Clinic. "When the glucose doesn't arrive in your cells, your body thinks it's starving and finds a way to compensate. It creates energy by burning fat and muscle at a rapid pace." Hence the unintended weight loss.
In 2020, the National Diabetes Statistics Report found that adults between 45 and 64 were the most diagnosed age group for diabetes. So if you're losing weight inexplicably, you should't simply look the other way. And for more shifts you'll notice as you age, here are 40 Ways Your Body Changes After 40.
Unexplained weight gain
You're eating like you always have, you're working out regularly, and you're even taking your multivitamins—so why are you gaining weight? The answer, surprisingly enough, might be that your heart is failing. When the heart stops efficiently pumping blood to the rest of the body, fluid begins to build up and this can lead to what looks like weight gain on the scale.
If you're gaining weight and you know it's not because of your diet or lack of exercise, you should consult your doctor. Seeing as Harvard Medical School reports that as many as 10 percent of all heart attacks occur before age 45, you can never be too cautious.
Though few people make it to late adulthood with 20/20 vision, sudden vision changes could be an indication of a serious underlying issue.
According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, one early sign of melanoma is blurry vision or partial vision loss. So if you've noticed changes in your eyesight—especially if you've also seen changes in your skin—it's important to get to a doctor right away. After all, the American Cancer Society says the risk of melanoma increases as people age.
Cataracts and glaucoma
Another vision-related health concern over 40 is cataracts and glaucoma. According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts and 40 percent more likely to suffer from glaucoma. So if you're dealing with either of these eye issues, you should get your blood sugar tested just to err on the side of caution.
Don't immediately brush off queasiness as something that will take care of itself. When researchers from Yale University interviewed thousands of heart attack patients about their symptoms, they discovered that approximately 62 percent of the women and 50 percent of the men had experienced nausea or stomach pain at some point. And seeing as heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., make sure you know these 13 Signs of a Heart Attack Women Can't Afford to Miss.
Believe it or not, your oral health can tell you a lot about the physical state of your bones. Dental issues like receding gums and tooth loss can be caused by osteoporosis, a bone-weakening condition that, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, plagues an estimated 44 million U.S. adults over the age of 50.
A diagnosis of periodontitis, or gum disease, might also mean that a type 2 diabetes diagnosis isn't far behind. Research published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care found that 23 percent of subjects with severe periodontitis had suspected diabetes, while just 10 percent of those without the gum disease did. And if you feel like your oral hygiene could be better, read up on How You're Brushing Your Teeth All Wrong.
There are countless causes of a stiff neck, from hunching at your desk to trying out a new pillow. However, if you can't figure out why your neck should feel stiff or sore, that pain could be a symptom of a rare inflammatory disease called polymyalgia rheumatica. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, this affliction tends to affect individuals over the age of 50.
If you had chickenpox as a kid, then you're at risk for shingles as an adult. And according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in three healthy adults will get shingles during their lifetimes, usually when they're over 40.
Before the shingles rash shows up, most people will notice—and ignore—a throbbing pain or itchy sensation on one side of their torso. Paying attention to this symptom can help you end your suffering before it gets worse. And for more bodily aches you should be listening to, check out 15 Common Pains You Should Never Ignore.
Sometimes your anxiety is just overwhelming stress. However, in some instances, that anxiety isn't from work or family obligations at all—it's actually a symptom of Parkinson's.
Though people typically associate the degenerative disease with motor issues, Parkinson's Foundation states that Parkinson's can also cause non-movement symptoms. In fact, as many as two out of five people (or roughly 40 percent) who have Parkinson's will experience anxiety, panic attacks, or OCD.
And though Parkinson's is known to affect those over 50, young-onset Parkinson's disease (YOPD) affects about two to 10 percent of the one million people with the disease in the U.S. So it's important to take these symptoms seriously.
Sure, easily treatable health issues like dehydration and fatigue can cause dizziness. However, this symptom "can also be a sign of heart blockage or a leaky heart valve in the days prior to a heart attack," explains Octavia Cannon, DO, president of the American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you start to feel dizzy and you can't figure out why, Cannon suggests seeing your healthcare provider—especially if your lightheadedness is coupled with more common heart disease symptoms, like numbness or arm pain.
"Let's face it, we are all tired," says Cannon. "But if you can't shake that fatigue, it's worth a visit to your healthcare provider to rule out anemia, vitamin D deficiency, autoimmune disorders, and heart disease."
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus symptoms and diagnosis occur most often between the ages of 15 and 44. This disease particularly affects women, and one of the main symptoms to look out for is photosensitivity—or extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet rays. Exposure to sunlight can cause rashes, fever, fatigue, joint pain, and more health issues. So if you start to notice that you're reacting every time you step into the sun, it's probably time to consult a doctor.
Changing sense of humor
Sometimes laughter is the best medicine, and other times it's a sign that something is amiss with your health.
Researchers from University College London discovered that older individuals whose sense of humor becomes darker—i.e. laughing at a funeral—are more likely to have a form of frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer's. This symptom actually appeared in subjects years before the onset of the actual disease. So paying attention to what you and your loved ones find funny might help you detect dementia early on.
Tingling in your hands
Feeling tingling or numbness in your fingers or hand so severe you can't sleep? It could be carpal tunnel. You can develop this condition at any age, but according to a 2007 study published in the journal Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery, 76 percent of all patients become symptomatic between 40 and 70 years of age.
This syndrome affects the hands and arms and is caused by a compressed nerve in the wrist passageway known as the carpal tunnel. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with carpal tunnel syndrome risk permanent nerve damage without proper treatment, so any chronic or consistent tingling in your upper extremities is not to be taken lightly.
Numbness in your fingers and toes
If you experience pain or numbness in your fingers or toes when the temperature changes, you could be dealing with Raynaud's, a rare disorder of the arteries that reduces blood flow to your appendages.
Though primary Raynaud's is the more common form of this affliction, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute notes that there is another version of the disorder called secondary Raynaud's that is "more severe" and "caused by an underlying disease, condition, or other factor." So if you're experiencing this kind of numbness, especially if you're over 40, it's worth visiting your primary care provider.
Difficulty using your hands
Struggling to use your hands in general could be a sign of cervical myelopathy, a degenerative condition that affects the spine and the nerve impulses sent throughout the body. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the condition commonly occurs in patients over the age of 50.
Thanu Jey, MD, clinical director at Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic, says one of the early warning signs that you might be afflicted is clumsy hands and trouble with fine movements—think "difficulty writing or buttoning up your shirt." The sooner you get assessed, the better your chances are of stopping the condition in its tracks.
"If you feel pain on the insides of the knees right by the joint, this can be a sign of early arthritis or degeneration," explains Jey, noting that the risk of osteoarthritis increases with age. "This condition will typically progress if untreated and limit your movement and activities in the future." So you should get any knee pain you experience checked out as early as possible.
If you're approaching 50 and you've fractured a bone from something as benign as bending over, don't rule out osteoporosis. The National Osteoporosis Foundation notes it's often considered a "silent disease" since you can't actually feel your bones weakening. But fractures could mean something deeper is going on within your bones.
If you're dealing with indigestion after consuming a large burger with a side of fries, then you're probably just experiencing your run-of-the-mill heartburn with nothing to worry about. However, if that burning in your chest is becoming a daily occurrence with no obvious cause, it could be an early warning sign of esophageal cancer. And according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, esophageal cancer is most often diagnosed in people over the age of 50.
When we come down with a cough, we tend to shrug it off in order to keep up with work and other obligations. However, you should always get your cough checked out, especially if you've worked in construction.
This seemingly minor symptom could be a sign of mesothelioma. "Over a prolonged period of time, being exposed to asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma cancer to develop," explains Colin Ruggiero, a health advocate with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. "This form of cancer has very minor symptoms, but the most common are chest pain, coughing, swelling of the abdomen, and difficulty breathing."
Your dry, itchy skin might not just be a side effect of skimping on moisturizer. According to one study published in the journal Seminars in Nephrology, approximately 40 percent of patients with chronic kidney disease experience uremic pruritus, better known as severe and chronic itching.
It's particularly important to look out for this since the CDC reports that once you hit 40, kidney filtration begins to decrease by one percent every year.
If turning down the heat at night isn't helping you feel any less overheated, then your night sweats might be a sign of something more serious. "Sweating at night can be a sign of cancer, a tuberculosis infection, menopause, and several other conditions," says Chirag Shah, MD, a board-certified emergency medicine physician. "If the sweating is new and nothing in the environment has been changed, it warrants further investigation with the help of a medical professional."
Pain in your side
A pain in your side—even if it's subtle—could be a sign of a serious infection in your kidneys, which already deteriorate with age. "The kidneys, which can be found on either side of our spines on our backs, are responsible for filtering our blood and producing urine," explains Shah. "Unfortunately, the kidneys can get infected, leading to a condition called pyelonephritis, and this causes severe side and back pain, fevers, and vomiting."
If you're noticing small bruises under your skin and are quick to pass it off as anemia, we understand the impulse. This condition, which is a lack of healthy red blood cells, affects approximately 24.8 percent of the global population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
But there are countless complications that can cause anemia—and one of the more serious ones is cancer, typically of the blood or bone marrow. So if you're bruising easily, be sure to head to the doctor.
Serious snorers should consult a sleep doctor to determine the root of their noisy problem. Of the 90 million Americans who snore while they sleep, approximately 50 percent suffer from a serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), according to the American Sleep Apnea Organization. Though it can affect anyone, OSA is most prominent amid men over 45 and post-menopausal women. Note: It's important to determine if you do have OSA because treatment involves a CPAP machine to maintain pressure in the airways.
Swollen ankles could be the result of strenuous activity, or it could be something more serious, like heart disease.
"Congestive heart failure can cause both peripheral edema and abdominal edema," according to an article published by the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. "This is because the heart is too weak to pump blood around the body properly, so the blood gathers in front of the heart." This, combined with a spike in blood pressure, can cause fluid to build in other areas of the body, like the abdomen or the extremities, leading to symptoms like swollen ankles.
Trouble swallowing could be a sign of something mild and easily curable like strep throat, or it could a symptom of something more serious like Lou Gehrig's disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that eventually causes muscle failure. According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the early signs of Lou Gehrig's disease—otherwise known as ALS—is slurred speech or trouble swallowing.
And since risk of ALS increases with age, those getting older can't afford to overlook trouble swallowing—especially since the disease is most common between the ages of 40 and 60.
Swelling in your neck
While you might brush it off as little more than a symptom of a common cold, a swollen neck can also be a sign of lung cancer. When a lung tumor develops and presses against the superior vena cava—the vein that delivers blood from your upper body to your heart—it can result in swelling of the neck and face.
Though most people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older, according to the American Cancer Society, a small number of people are diagnosed younger than 45.
Blue fingernail beds
Something look off with your nail beds? It could be the result of cyanosis, an insufficient amount of oxygen in the blood that causes blue discoloration of the lips, skin, and fingernail beds. Cyanosis is, in some cases, caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that COPD develops most often in people who are 40 or older. Again, even something that seems minimal, like discolored nails, is worth checking out.
Another sign of diabetes to look out is skin discoloration on the back of your neck, which is called acanthosis nigricans. It's a pretty good indication that your body is becoming insulin resistant.
"Long before you actually get diabetes, you may notice a dark discoloration on the back of your neck," Ronald Tamler, MD, medical director of the Mount Sinai Clinical Diabetes Institute, explained to Health. So be sure to get any discoloration you see checked out.
Believe it or not, a urinary tract infection can quite literally drive you crazy. Because the immune system weakens with age, a UTI that would primarily manifest only physically in a young adult can also cause confusion, agitation, and delirium in older individuals.
In fact, research published in the Journal of Aging and Health noted that "nursing home residents are more likely to present with nonspecific [UTI] symptoms such as anorexia, confusion, and a decline in functional status."
"Stuffed noses turn allergy sufferers into mouth-breathers," explains Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and pediatrician. "Breathing through an open mouth all day and night will dehydrate lips and leave them chapped, dry, and cracked."
According to the National Cancer Institute, the risk of a woman developing breast cancer triples between 30 and 40 in the U.S. So not only should you be checking for lumps after 40, you should also examine your nipples.
"Cancer can originate in the nipple," explains Holly Pederson, MD, director of medical breast services at the Cleveland Clinic. "The nipple will look reddish or purplish; it doesn't look normal. It's actually the tumor cells invading the nipple that cause the skin to look different if it is breast cancer."
Changing skin texture on your breast
Of course, it's only natural that the skin on your breasts, much like the skin on the rest of your body, will look different as you age. However, the National Breast Cancer Foundation notes that scaly or reddish skin might not just be a normal part of the aging process, but a warning sign of breast cancer that warrants medical attention.
Since arousal is controlled by the central nervous system, erectile dysfunction could mean something is going on with your body apart from sexual issues. One condition to be aware of is multiple sclerosis, which mostly affects those between 20 and 50, according to National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
According to the organization, data has shown that anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of men with MS experience sexual dysfunction. So if you're having performance issues in the bedroom, talk to your doctors to rule out MS as an underlying cause.
Constipation, diarrhea, and bowel incontinence are all also possible symptoms of MS. So you should take sudden changes in your digestion just as seriously as any pain or balance problems. And for more health advice, don't miss these 20 Surprising Flu Symptoms You Can't Afford to Ignore.