Your body has a lot of obvious signals built-in to inform you when something is wrong. If you’re not experiencing clear signs like fever or pain, it’s easy to think that everything is fine, but your body has some more subtle signs that you’re not as healthy as you think. Some of these signs are in areas you might not think to inspect in relation to your overall health, like your fingernails, eyes, and even your ears. The human body is an amazing, complex machine, and yours talks to you in a lot of ways, even if you don’t always understand what it’s saying.
To be clear, the following signs do not necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with you whatsoever. I’m not trying to fill you with paranoia here, or make you start questioning every little strange thing that your body does (because, let’s face it, bodies are strange). Many people experience a lot of these signs with no ill effects. However, if you are noticing some of these symptoms in conjunction with other symptoms — let’s say you’re suddenly experiencing extreme fatigue and very brittle nails (a potential indicator of a thyroid problem) — you should go get checked out by your doctor.
1. Fingernail Problems
You may not realize that your nails can be barometers of your health. The color, texture, and strength of your nails can be signs of a variety of conditions: For example, dark lines spreading outward from your cuticle may be a sign of melanoma (which you should definitely have checked out). Blue nails suggest a lack of oxygen, and white nails may be signs of anemia or diabetes. Really brittle nails could be signs of a thyroid issue, while pitting or grooves in the nails can indicate psoriasis.
2. Irregular Periods
First things first: Plenty of people have irregular periods, and that’s the norm for them, and they are just fine. Menstruation can be affected by a variety of factors, from stress to sleep to weight, and if your menstrual cycle changes very suddenly, that could be a sign that something is off-kilter with your body. Though much of the time this change isn’t a sign of any major risk (it may just mean that you need to sleep more or change your exercise routine), there are a few more serious conditions of which irregular menstruation is typical. These include Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, thyroid problems, and some STIs. If you have any of these conditions, chances are you have other symptoms in addition to irregular periods, but if your period starts acting funny and you’re feeling “off” in other ways, it may be worth a visit to your gyno.
3. Ear Creases
In 1973, Dr. Sanders T. Frank published a letter in a medical journal, suggesting a link between a straight crease in the earlobe and coronary artery disease (CAD). In the years since, multiple studies have shown a correlation between having a creased earlobe and risk for CAD; however, other research has not shown this connection. If you have a creased earlobe, you don’t need to freak out (for some people, it’s simply a sign of getting older), but it wouldn’t hurt to talk to your doc about potential signs of heart disease and how to maintain your heart health.
Itchy skin may just be an allergic reaction or a sign that you have dry skin and need to pile on the lotion, but extreme itchiness that won’t go away may be a symptom of Hodgkin's or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “It's not a normal itch,” Dr. Francesca Fusco, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, explained to O magazine. “It feels like something is underneath your skin.”
Acne sucks for many reasons, but it can be an indicator of issues with your health, including dehydration, stress, and inadequate sleep. Acne can also be triggered by hormonal imbalances (That’s why it’s common to breakout right before you menstruate), but if you’re having severe cystic acne (especially on your chin), it could be a sign of PCOS.
6. Other Skin Signs
In addition to acne, your skin can give other signs that not everything is right with your body. You probably know that irregular or changing moles and freckles are sometimes signs of skin cancer (get those checked out!), but did you know that brown or gray patches on the skin (especially near the groin, neck, and underarms) may indicators of type 2 diabetes? Or that a malar rash — a red symmetrical rash extending across the nose and cheeks (Women’s Health describes it as "butterfly-shaped") — is a sign of lupus? If your skin suddenly starts acting strangely, or you get unusual skin discoloration or patches, talk to a dermatologist.
You already know that getting sufficient sleep is an important factor in maintaining good health. But if you can’t sleep, despite your best efforts, it may be a signal that something more is going on. Insomnia can be a symptom of a variety of medical conditions (including hyperthyroidism, gastrointestinal problems, and chronic pain), as well as mental disorders like depression and anxiety. If you have any of these conditions, you are probably already aware of it, but if they are making it impossible for you to sleep, talk to your doctor. Certain medications can also interfere with sleep, so if you’re taking a drug that’s necessary to your health but that is destroying your sleep, look into changing up your meds.
A lot of people snore, and, for most of them, it’s not a major problem (except, maybe, for their beleaguered bed partners). Snoring happens when something interferes with a sleeping person’s airflow. (So it makes sense, for instance, that I tend to snore horribly when I’m getting over a cold. You’re welcome, husband.) People who snore consistently can get sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by disrupted breathing. Sleep apnea can cause a number of serious problems, but, on the most basic level, it messes with your sleep, causing you to sleep poorly and wake up frequently. This, in turn, means that you don’t get enough sleep, which in itself can cause other health problems.
9. Extra Cold Hands And Feet
In general, having chilly hands and feet isn’t a big deal (especially if you’re young and otherwise healthy), but when freezing extremities are coupled with color changes in your skin — especially to white or blue — they may be signs of Raynaud’s disease, a disorder in which a person’s blood vessels constrict too much. Most people with Raynaud’s disease don’t experience long lasting problems, but severe bouts of blood vessel constriction can lead to more serious issues; furthermore, the disease is sometimes associated with other vascular or rheumatologic conditions.
10. Unusual Eyes
Your eyes can tell you things about your health that have nothing to do with vision. For example, a gray or white ring around the iris may be a sign of high cholesterol. Dry eyes are very common, and are usually due to issues like spending too much time in front of computers, but in rare cases, dry eyes can be caused by autoimmune disorders like Sjögren's syndrome.
Again, having one of these symptoms doesn’t mean that you are secretly falling apart, but it’s not a bad idea to be more aware of the different messages your body may be sending you. If you’re seeing these signs stacking up with other health issues, it never hurts to consult a professional.