We all go through our day dealing with life’s little inconveniences – filling in our brows, switching to a more potent, clinical-strength deodorant or even contemplating slathering retinol on our hands to rid ourselves of age spots due to sun damage. Hey, we may not remember to apply sunscreen there everyday! But when might these little concerns be a sign of a bigger issue concerning our health? Here, six common issues, what they might say about your personal wellness and when it’s time to check in with your doctor.
Health warning sign #1
Are you buying eyebrow pencils and Latisse or other brow growth serums in bulk? Losing your Brooke Shields-esque volume could be the sign of an underactive thryroid gland, which can lead to many health problems including weight gain, abnormal menstrual cycles, high cholesterol and at its worst, heart failure, explains Dr. Anita Ramsetty, board-certified endocrinologist at Roper St. Francis Healthcare in Charleston, South Carolina. A simple blood test can determine lowered T3, T4 and TSH levels, and with treatment your brows may be restored, sans growth serums and non-FDA-approved chemicals.
Health warning sign #2
New “freckles” near your eyes and knuckles
New “freckles” near your eyes and on your knuckles could be a sign that you have abnormally high levels of cholesterol, which puts you at higher risk for heart attacks and stroke. Xanthoma is the clinical name of this skin condition that causes fat buildup under the surface of the skin. It looks like a sore or bump under the skin, and because it’s usually flat, soft to the touch and yellow, it’s often mistaken for freckles or sun-damage “liver spots.” These spots may be a sign of a medical condition that involves an increase in blood lipids, including diabetes and high cholesterol, so call your doctor – a simple blood test can check for lipid levels, liver function and diabetes.
Health warning sign #3
Unpleasant change in body odor
Do your work clothes smell like gym clothes and you’ve noticed that your deodorant isn’t cutting it anymore? You could have cancer. When 31-year-old Alyssa Phillips began noticing an unpleasant body odor three years ago on her daily runs, she never could have imagined what it meant. A long-time runner, she’d just completed her best time in a half-marathon and never felt better.
“Looking back, it was one of the first signs,” she explains. Within weeks she was diagnosed with an extremely rare type of cervical cancer called large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma and told that it had already metastasized to her liver.
Other medical conditions that cause body odor may include infections, exposure to toxins, genetic abnormalities, oral disease, sexually transmitted diseases and diabetes. Be sure to keep an eye (or a nose) out for any changes, and immediately talk to your doc about them.
Health warning sign #4
Jaw and ear pain
That nagging jaw and ear pain may not be a result of stress or holding the phone between your head and shoulder. While pain and numbness in the chest, shoulder and arm is a common sign of heart attack among men, women often don’t experience the pain this way. Instead, “many women say that they feel pain and a sensation of tightness running along their jaw and down the neck, and sometimes up to the ear, as well,” explains Melanie Haiken, senior editor at Caring.com. The pain may extend down to the shoulder and arm, particularly on the left side, or it may feel like a backache or pulled muscle in the neck and back. It’s never a good idea to ignore pain, especially when it could indicate something is wrong with your heart.
Health warning sign #5
Extreme light sensitivity
If bright lights suddenly cause you to squint or close your eyes and are sometimes accompanied by headaches and nausea, it might be a symptom of a bigger issue. This sensitivity can be triggered by sunlight, fluorescent lighting, lamps, television screens and even flashes from cameras, which can cause discomfort for more than just a few seconds, rendering you unable to see well or even read smaller print right away. Extreme sensitivity to light, or photophobia, can be a symptom of iritis (an inflammatory disorder of the eye), glaucoma or even a corneal abrasion that might require antibiotic drops. If this is you, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist for an eye exam.
Health warning sign #6
Your nails peel like an onion
If your pricey manicure is only lasting a couple of days, don’t get peeved at your manicurist — it could be your thyroid. Dry, ridged, brittle, splitting or peeling nails is just one of the many symptoms of hypothyroidism. Low thyroid levels, left untreated, eventually slow down your bodily functions, including your metabolism. Your body eventually creates less heat and sweats less because as cells slow down they require less energy. Your sweat glands provide moisture to both your nails and skin and because these glands are not operating at full capacity, your nails and nail bed are not receiving the moisture they need for optimal healthy growth and repair. Have your doctor check your nails next time you’re scheduled for an exam, but don’t forget to remove your nail polish at least two days before to give your nails a chance to bounce back from the lacquers and acetone!