50 Signs of Poor Health No One Over 50 Should Ignore
Help yourself out by becoming better acquainted with the signs of deteriorating health.
By the time you reach 50, it’s only expected that you’ll have some aches and pains here and there. After all, your body’s experienced half a century of wear and tear, and you’re bound to start feeling it sometime. But while the occasional ow-inducing ache in your back isn’t anything to seek medical attention over, there are some more subtle signs of serious health issues that everyone over 50 should be aware of. To help you know what to look out for, we’ve rounded up the signs of poor health no one over 50 can afford to ignore.
In some cases, forgetfulness or short-term memory loss can suggest the deterioration of the temporal or frontal lobes of the brain where memory functions reside, says Dr. Santosh Kesari, a neuro-oncologist and neuroscientist at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
This can occur over the course of months or even years—and though it may be just a regular side effect of aging, it can also signal something more serious like dementia or a brain tumor.
“Millions of women deal with some type of bladder control issue at some point in their lives,” says Dr. S. Adam Ramin, a urologic surgeon and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles. “And the truth is this: if you suffer from urinary incontinence, it doesn’t have to be a condition that puts you in adult diapers for the rest of your life. In fact, there are some simple diet and lifestyle changes that can put you back on the road to bladder control.”
But while incontinence is not uncommon in the later stages of life, there are times when it can also be a sign of a more serious problem. If you’ve tried conservative methods for relieving the issue and they haven’t been effective or the problem has worsened, consider making an appointment with a urologist to get to the bottom of what’s going on in your bladder, suggests Ramin.
People in their 50s who report lower sleep quality have higher levels of tau protein, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2019 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Based on the findings of this research, the authors recommend that doctors talk to older patients about changes in sleep patterns and provide treatment when necessary to improve sleep and help delay the symptoms of dementia.
Though a little bit of shrinking can be a normal part of aging—mostly caused by spinal disk degeneration—too much shrinking is not, says Dr. Anthony Kouri, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center.
“[Shrinking] is related to osteoporosis or osteopenia and can be a sign that your bones are very soft and thus susceptible to dangerous fragility fractures,” he explains. “A large amount of shrinking comes from the gradual collapse of the bony spinal vertebrae.”
Some people have teeth that are more naturally sensitive to hot and cold than others. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, this phenomenon can also be caused by something more complex (and serious) like gum disease. If your tooth sensitivity becomes disruptive, it’s time to see your dentist.
Sharp Pain in the Upper Abdomen
Abdominal pain is never something to ignore, especially if it’s concentrated in the right upper corner or mid upper abdomen. According to Dr. Ashkan Farhadi, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, this could be a sign of gallstones, a complication in the gallbladder that can lead to inflammation or blockage of the common bile duct.
If the sides of your neck are exceptionally tender, you likely have swollen glands. Most of the time, this symptom is not a cause for concern, but the University of Michigan School of Medicine warns that it could also be an indication of other conditions like lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, tonsillitis, a hernia, Lyme disease, certain types of cancers, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Experiencing some changes in your vision as you age—usually for the worse—happens to most people. However, if you experience a sudden loss of vision, it may be a symptom of a brain tumor, Kesari says.
“If this is the case, you may keep bumping into things on the side of the body related to the vision loss and/or have repeated car accidents on the side of the loss,” he explains. Either way, it’s something to get checked out by a professional.
If you or someone else notices that your speech is changing—specifically, that it’s slurred or that you’re speaking gibberish—this may be due to a brain tumor affecting the speech-related areas in the temporal or parietal lobes, Kesari explains. According to the American Stroke Association, slurred speech may also be a sign of a stroke—and seeing as one study published in the journal Neurotherapeutics notes that stroke risk doubles for each decade after age 55, this is something that you’ll especially want to pay attention to as you age.
By your 50s, you probably have walking down pat. So, if you notice any major changes to your gait, it’s not something to ignore. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society notes that difficulty walking is one of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), and this condition can manifest in people over 50 as late-onset MS.
According to Kesari, this is “generally related to [a disturbance in] the frontal lobe or cerebellum,” though your walking abilities “can also be affected when the motor fibers in the frontal lobe [are] affected.”
If you or a loved one notices changes in your personality—and you’re not just having a bad day—it may be a sign of poor health. “Patients [with tumors in the frontal lobe where executive functions reside] present with a change in behavior including disinhibition presenting as risky behaviors, or apathy and doing less than they normally would. Patients may not be as effective at their job or home functions,” says Kesari.
Back Pain Below the Rib Cage
If you experience this specific type of back pain, it may be a sign of late-stage kidney cancer, Ramin says. And because early-stage kidney cancer does not cause symptoms, the doctor notes that it’s important to maintain a proactive approach to health with regular check-ups—even when you’re well, and especially when you’re not.
Coughing Up Blood
Though coughing up blood can be alarming, it isn’t always a sign of something serious. Rather, this is a pretty typical symptom associated with common colds, notes Dr. Monique Dieuvil, a family medicine specialist at Orlando Health Physician Associates.
However, if you have been in a crowded area for an extended period of time, you may have been exposed to tuberculosis—a serious lung infection—and in this case, coughing up blood isn’t something to ignore. In some cases, this phenomenon is also a symptom of lung cancer.
Not being naturally tan is nothing to worry about. Being unusually and uncharacteristically pale, however, can be a sign of anemia, a common blood disorder that affects more than 3 million Americans. According to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, paleness can also be a symptom of frostbite, shock, and low blood sugar.
Shortness of Breath
If you experience shortness of breath while you’re at rest, you may want to make an appointment to see your doctor. It could mean that you have blood clots in your lungs or potentially even a lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that tends to progress as people age, Dieuvil explains.
If you notice that you’re developing tremors while at rest or that the ones you’ve had for a while are getting worse, it may be a sign of a neurological disorder like Parkinson’s disease, says Dr. Laren Tan, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Loma Linda University Health.
However, the most common form of hand shakiness is known as essential tremor, according to Harvard Medical School, and it’s nothing to be too concerned about. While the exact cause is unknown, essential tremor becomes more common with aging and may run in families.
Non-smokers who experience wheezing when they breathe may have a shorter life expectancy, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Respirology. The lead authors of the study suggest that if older people are experiencing even mild respiratory symptoms, they should visit their general practitioner for further investigation.
If you’re experiencing frequent and noticeable mood swings or if you feel you’re set off by even the most minuscule of things, there may be an underlying behavioral health issue at play, says Tan. Talk to your healthcare provider about depression or anxiety, as these can cause extreme moodiness and both become more common in people as they age.
A Burning Sensation in Your Abdomen
If the pain you’re feeling in your mid-abdominal area is something of a burning sensation, it could be a sign of a stomach ulcer, Dr. Rudolph Bedford, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, explains. If this is the case, it is typically accompanied by nausea and possibly even vomiting. Research has shown that stomach ulcers are more likely to develop in older individuals, so keep a close eye on any burning sensations in the abdominal region.
By the time you’re 50, you already know that chapped lips and extreme thirst could mean that you’re dehydrated. But did you know that dry skin can be a sign of dehydration too? Muscles and organs need water to function correctly—and seeing as the skin is your largest organ, it too needs water.
Hearing loss can—and often does—happen gradually as you age. However, if you notice any sudden changes in your hearing in your 50s, it’s probably something else. One possibility is that you have “tumors affecting the eighth cranial nerve,” ones that “can result in hearing loss, ringing the ear, and also vertigo,” Kesari explains. It could also be something else completely, like a build-up of earwax or a punctured eardrum, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Sudden weakness can be one of the signs of poor health over 50. For example, if you have a brain tumor in the frontal lobe motor cortex, or one that’s affecting the motor fibers (the neurons and pathways that control the muscles), then you may feel weakness in an extremity, Kesari explains. Sudden and/or constant weakness can also be a sign of some cancers like leukemia, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Throwing up doesn’t always indicate something as benign as food poisoning. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the unpleasant phenomenon can be a sign of a concussion, encephalitis, meningitis, intestinal blockage, appendicitis, migraine headaches, and even a brain tumor.
Nausea isn’t in itself a disease, but it can be a sign of a range of conditions, according to Stanford University Health Care. Though the feeling can be related to anxiety or caused by something you ate, it may also indicate a more serious problem like peptic ulcer disease, a migraine, or bowel obstruction.
Though it may be uncomfortable—both to live with and to talk about—vaginal dryness isn’t something you should ignore. Not only can it be irritating and cause pain during sex, but vaginal dryness also usually indicates that the vaginal tissue has gotten thinner, drier, and less flexible, often due to estrogen loss in the postmenopausal phase. This means that your vagina is more prone to cracks or tears, making it more prone to things like urinary tract infections or sexually transmitted infections.
Though painful joints are something we come to expect as we age, not all of it is normal. If the joint pain is accompanied by swelling, tenderness, warmth in the joints, or morning stiffness that lasts for more than an hour, it may be inflammatory arthritis, for which your risk increases as you age, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The most common forms of inflammatory arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, gout, and ankylosing spondylitis.
Extreme Hair Loss
It’s normal to lose around 100 hairs each day, but if you notice that your hair loss is significantly more than that, you may want to mention it to your doctor. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, this could be telogen effluvium, a condition that causes the hair roots to be pushed prematurely into the resting state. In cases of telogen effluvium, hair may even fall out by the handful.
Ulnar Wrist Pain
Ulnar wrist pain occurs on the outside of the wrist, on the side where the pinky finger is located. It is often accompanied by a popping or clicking noise as well as the loss of strength or movement. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this pain could be a sign of a number of conditions including arthritis, nerve injuries or compression, triangular fibrocartilage complex injury, ganglion cysts, Kienbock’s disease, or ulnar artery thrombosis.
No, we’re not talking about not understanding your neighbor’s long-winded story. Rather, if you find that you’re confused and/or disoriented in what should be a straightforward conversation or situation, then you have cause for concern.
According to the University of Michigan School of Medicine, confusion can be a sign of conditions commonly seen in the over-50 population like dementia, delirium, amnesia, urinary tract infections, complications with diabetes, kidney or liver failure, Alzheimer’s disease, and sepsis.
The good news is that not all chest pain is an indication of a heart attack. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are three types of chest pain that usually do not signal a heart attack: brief “lightning bolt” or “electrical shock” sensations (those are typically from a cracked rib, a pulled chest-wall muscle, or shingles); pinpoint discomfort that worsens when you change positions (if this happens when breathing, it’s probably a sign of asthma, pneumonia, or pleurisy); and sharp pain that’s relieved by exercise (that’s likely acid reflux).
According to the Mayo Clinic, difficulty swallowing is usually caused by damage to the esophagus, blockage of the esophagus, or poor function of the nerves and muscles that control swallowing. It could also be a sign of something more serious, like esophageal or mouth cancer. Seek immediate treatment if you have something stuck in your throat, can’t swallow at all, or are having trouble breathing.
Clouded or Blurred Vision
If you’re experiencing clouded or blurred vision, the Mayo Clinic notes that it could be a sign of cataracts, an age-related condition of the eye. This may also be accompanied by sensitivity to light and glare, seeing “halos” around lights, fading or yellowing of colors, and having double vision in a single eye. The best way to stay on top of cataracts is to have regular eye exams and to let your optometrist or ophthalmologist know if you’re having any problems with your vision.
If you just spent the day breaking in a new pair of shoes, it’s probably not a surprise if your feet are a little swollen at the end of the day. But if that’s not the case, then your swollen extremities could indicate that something else is going on.
According to Harvard Medical School, swollen feet can be a sign of deep vein thrombosis, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and phlebitis. On a less severe note, it could also mean that you ate too much salt or are having a reaction to a medication.
Living with a painful hip (or two) isn’t just a cliche about aging. It’s also a reality for many people in their 50s and above. According to Harvard Medical School, this pain can be caused by hip bursitis—an inflammation between your thighbone and nearby tendons—tendinitis, an overuse injury, and spinal problems.
Numbness in the Hands
If you find that your hands are getting numb—and it’s not because you fell asleep on them in an awkward position—it could mean something else is going on. According to the Mayo Clinic, numbness in your hands can be a sign of conditions like Lyme disease, cervical spondylosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome, Raynaud’s disease, and diabetes, among others.
Some people are just sweatier than others, and that’s totally fine. And in older women, excessive sweating can also be a symptom of menopause, which is also nothing to worry about. However, according to Johns Hopkins University, sweating profusely can also be caused by neurologic syndromes, thyrotoxicosis, gout, and spinal cord injuries. If you start sweating so much that it’s starting to interfere with your daily life, it’s probably time to see a doctor about it.
Balance is something we take for granted until it goes away. If you’re regularly losing your balance or feel like you’re going to fall, it may be a sign of a variety of conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Ménière’s disease, low blood sugar, and dehydration, per the Cleveland Clinic. If these balance issues persist, definitely bring them up with your physician so you can treat the underlying issue.
If you walk outside in the dead of winter without gloves, then you shouldn’t be concerned if and when your hands feel frigid. But if this is happening on a scorching summer day, it may mean that you’re having issues with circulation. Specifically, it could be Raynaud’s disease, a disorder that affects the arteries that supply blood from the heart to other parts of the body.
This condition results in a temporary narrowing of blood vessels which, in turn, make your hands and fingers—and sometimes your toes, too—feel cold, as the Cleveland Clinic explains.
You’ve probably experienced a twitching eyelid at some point or another, one that causes you to involuntarily wink at everyone you come in contact with. And though this is usually just awkward at best, if you find that you have frequent eyelid twitching, it could mean that you’re under a dangerous amount of stress or are drinking too much caffeine, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It may also indicate that you are sleep deprived.
Regardless of your age, a fever is a sign that your body is fighting off some sort of infection. A low-grade fever—that is, one below 102 degrees Fahrenheit—can be treated at home under most circumstances—but if it’s higher than that, you’ll want to seek medical attention, as it could be a sign of a urinary tract infection, a cold or the flu, bronchitis, strep throat, mononucleosis, and various other conditions.
A Persistent Cough
If you have a cough that lasts for eight weeks or more, it may be a sign that something is amiss. According to the Mayo Clinic, such illnesses include asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, chronic bronchitis, and postnasal drip, as well as more serious conditions like cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, and sarcoidosis.
Superficial loss of skin cells is a normal ongoing process, but significant, noticeably peeling skin can be a result of injury or disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Possible causes include eczema, edema, contact dermatitis, and scarlet fever.
An Itchy Scalp
Having an occasional itchy scalp is normal, but if it’s something that’s persistent and distracting, it could be a symptom of a larger condition. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it can indicate conditions like scalp ringworm, hives, scabies, scalp psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and possibly even skin cancer. Of course, it can also just be dandruff or a reaction to a new shampoo, so don’t panic until you see a doctor.
It’s perfectly normal for our eyes to water when we wake up in the morning or when they’re exposed to extreme hot or cold. But in some circumstances, this can also be a symptom of a medical condition like allergies or an eye infection, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
If you’re experiencing pain radiating from your bones, it could be the sign of a sprain or fracture, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In addition, it can also be a symptom of serious issues like bone cancer and leukemia, both of which require immediate medical treatment.
Believe it or not, jaw pain can be a sign of heart disease, according to Johns Hopkins University. When this is the case, the pain radiates to the jaw and neck from the chest. The American Heart Association says that women are more likely than men to experience jaw pain as a heart attack symptom.
A White Tongue
If you happen to notice that your tongue is covered with a white coating, it could be a clue that something’s up with your body. According to the Mayo Clinic, this coating is the result of an overgrowth and swelling of the fingerlike projections—or papillae—on the surface of your tongue, and it’s caused by debris, bacteria, and dead cells getting lodged between enlarged and sometimes inflamed papillae.
This white film is an indication of things like dry mouth, dehydration, and overconsumption of alcohol. It can also be a symptom of conditions like oral thrush, leukoplakia, mouth cancer, tongue cancer, and syphilis.
A Loss of Interest in Activities
Depression can strike at any age. If you find that you no longer enjoy or are interested in the activities you used to love, it may be a sign that you are suffering from the mental illness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, loss of interest—coupled with other symptoms like feelings of hopelessness, restlessness, irritability, decreased energy, oversleeping, and not getting enough sleep—may indicate that you are experiencing a depressive episode.
A Drooping Face
If you are in otherwise good health and your face suddenly starts to droop, then there’s a good chance that it’s Bell’s palsy, according to the Mayo Clinic. This condition usually only strikes one side of the face at a time, and thankfully it only lasts for up to six months.
However, a drooping face could also be a sign of a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association, or even Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Before you write off any droopiness as temporary, consult your doctor and rule out any serious conditions.
Your nails are actually a pretty good indicator of your overall health. If, for instance, you find that your nails are peeling or flaking off, it could be a sign that something larger is happening within your body. According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, peeling, brittle nails can be a symptom of things like hypothyroidism, Raynaud’s syndrome, and anemia. Of course, it can also just mean that your nails are dry and need to be moisturized more frequently, so consult with a professional before coming to the conclusion that you’re anemic.
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