10 Scary A** Symptoms That Are Usually Harmless

by David Wells, MD
Originally Published: 
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There are some symptoms which are downright scary. From unexpected weight loss to strange lumps, they’re enough to drive a person crazy. It’s true that some symptoms can be a serious sign. However, most are relatively harmless. For example, twitching is associated with ALS (less common), but it’s also associated with anxiety (more common). In this article, we’re going to show you 10 scary symptoms that are usually harmless.

Scary Symptom No. 1: Chest Pain

What People Think It Means: Heart Attack

What It Probably Means: Yes, a heart attack can result in severe chest pain, but so can other things like heartburn, tight muscles, and so on. Heart attacks often cause people to have “referred pain” (pain in other parts of the body). This referred pain is often present in the left arm, left shoulder, and lower jaw. If you’re having chronic pain in these areas, go to a hospital. However, if it’s chest pain by itself, it could just be heart burn or pinched nerve.

Scary Symptom No. 2: Lumps

What People Think It Means: Sarcoma

What It Probably Means: We’ve all had unexplained lumps on our bodies before. The question is, are they serious? Most people automatically think, “I have a tumor!” when they see a lump underneath their skin. But the truth is, it’s more likely to be a sebaceous cyst, lipoma (benign fatty tumor), or other non-cancerous growth. If you see an explained bodily lump, get it looked at by a doctor. But do yourself a favor, and don’t stress over it.

Scary Symptom No. 3: Muscle Twitching

What People Think It Means: ALS

What It Probably Means: Twitching is by far the most common scary symptom that people experience. Pretty much everyone has experienced muscle twitching at one point or another. Fortunately, most cases of muscle twitching are benign and harmless. It’s more likely that you’ve overexerted your muscles, you’re dehydrated, or you’re anxious. Remember that ALS is a chronic neurodegenerative disease. This means that it doesn’t “come and go.” If your muscle is twitching every other day, that’s not ALS. It can, however, be a sign of BFS, which is annoying but totally harmless.

Scary Symptom No. 4: Unexplained Weight Loss

What People Think It Means: HIV

What It Probably Means: A telltale sign of HIV is unexplained weight loss accompanied by weakness and fatigue. If you’ve had unprotected sex, then HIV is a definite possibility, and you should get yourself tested. But if you’re not sexually active, or if you’re with an HIV-free partner, stop stressing. Don’t let the media trick you into believing that HIV can be spread through kissing, pin-prick attacks, or sharing drinks. In most cases, HIV is transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex (oral sex is extremely rare but still a possibility). Unexplained weight loss is more likely to be the result of depression, which leads to people to stop eating.

Scary Symptom No. 5: Forgetfulness

What People Think It Means: Alzheimer’s Disease

What It Probably Means: As we get older, it’s completely normal to forget things. Alzheimer’s disease is far more than just forgetting — it results in the complete deterioration of the brain. People with this disease often forget how to do simple, everyday tasks like drive or use a phone. If you’re occasionally forgetting where you put your keys, or can’t remember what you were supposed to buy at the supermarket, that’s not a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Even younger people can experience forgetfulness if they’re stressed or haven’t had enough sleep (hint: anyone with a baby). If you’re worried, talk to a doctor, but don’t lose sleep over it.

Scary Symptom No. 6: Headaches

What People Think It Means: Brain Tumor

What It Probably Means: There are literally thousands of reasons for why people get headaches, most of which don’t include brain tumors. The chances of getting a brain tumor in your lifetime are relatively slim (less than 1%). You have a higher chance of getting killed in a car accident. If you’re having headaches, it’s probably because you’re dehydrated, stressed, overworked, or aren’t exercising. A poor diet can also lead to frequent headaches.

Scary Symptom No. 7: Cramping

What People Think It Means: Multiple Sclerosis

What It Probably Means: By far the most common cause of cramping in otherwise healthy people is dehydration. When you starve your muscles of water, they will sporadically tighten up. This is one of your body’s ways of screaming, “I need water!” Chronic cramping should be investigated, but if it’s only happening every now and then, it’s probably due to dehydration. Drink a Gatorade and/or eat a banana and see if that helps. Chances are that it will.

Scary Symptom No.8: Swollen Lymph Nodes

What People Think It Means: Lymphoma

What It Probably Means: We all have hundreds of lymph nodes in our bodies. When these lymph nodes swell, it’s a sign that our body is fighting an infection. Can swollen lymph nodes be a result of lymphoma? Absolutely, but the odds are low. Infections are way more common. Something as innocent as an insect bite can cause your lymph nodes to swell. If you’re feeling nervous, bring it up on your next doctor’s visit. But in the meantime, try to keep yourself sane by not thinking about it.

Scary Symptom No.9: Shakiness

What People Think It Means: Parkinson’s Disease

What It Probably Means: Feeling nervous, jittery, or “shaky” on the inside? Don’t worry — Parkinson’s disease isn’t the most common cause. Many people feel internal shakiness whenever they haven’t eaten. Others experience it when they’re nervous or when they’re experiencing a nutritional deficiency (iodine deficiency, B12 deficiency, etc.). Feel free to bring it up to your doctor, but know that shakiness isn’t a death sentence.

Scary Symptom No. 10: Phantom Smells

What People Think It Means: Stroke

What It Probably Means: A stroke happens whenever the blood supply to your brain gets cut off. Without oxygen, parts of the brain begin to die. This can lead to many strange neurological symptoms, including phantom smells (smells that aren’t there). The good news? Phantom smells, on their own, aren’t the most common symptom of a stroke. It’s more likely that you have a sinus infection, nasal polyps, or anxiety. If you’re over the age of 50, and have accompanying symptoms (blurry vision, droopy face, etc.), then it’s more likely to be a stroke. However, if you’re young and healthy, and this is your only symptom, you’re probably OK. With that said, you should still get this symptom checked out by a doctor.

Now that you’ve discovered you very likely are not afflicted with a serious illness, consider what you can do to keep yourself healthy. Small changes make a big difference, and it starts with taking time from your chaotic routine for yourself.

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