If you're not spending at least part of your shower checking your body for health concerns, you might not be making the best use of your time. A shower offers the perfect moment to get acquainted with your body, what it looks like, and what is or is not normal. Yes, you can shampoo. Yes, you can sing. And yes, you can stare at the water swirling down the drain whilst thinking about life. But you should also spend some time looking for health red flags.
Of course, I'm not saying you need to check every nook and cranny every single time you hop in the bath. But it is important to give yourself a once over, and keep an eye out for any changes. "The shower is a great time because you are naked and touching areas that are not normally exposed," Dr. Scott Schreiber, a chiropractic physician, nutritionist, and acupuncturist, tells Bustle. "Developing a routine will help prevent totally treatable disorders from getting worse."
And all it takes is a few minutes. Check your breasts, check your skin, check your nails, etc. And then, keep a watchful eye out for anything that seems to be different, painful, or otherwise out of sorts. Below, some red flags you should check for in the shower, so you can stay on top of your health.
1. Any Changes Or Lumps On Your Breasts
Get in the habit of giving yourself a quick exam in the shower at least once a month, by using your fingers to feel on and around your boobs. "This is the best time to check because your fingertips are already wet and you can check breasts for any new changes or lumps," says family physician Dr. Kre Johnson, DO, in an email to Bustle. "I recommend women do self breast exams because it helps you learn what your normal breasts feel like." Notice any lumps, bumps or changes? Tell your doctor, ASAP.
2. New Or Changing Moles
There's no time like a bath or shower to get acquainted with your freckles and scan your skin for any weird moles. "I recommend looking for 'an ugly duckling' or a mole or growth that looks different and unlike any other moles on your body," says board-certified dermatologist Jennifer T. Haley, MD FAAD. "If you have ever been nude in a tanning bed, check 'down there' as well, as melanoma rates to the genital area occur and use of tanning salons increases the risk." If you spot something odd, itchy, or painful, tell your dermatologist.
3. Painful Lymph Nodes In Your Neck, Armpits, Or Groin
Do you have a pain in your neck? Or maybe your armpits or groin area? If these areas seem to be tender to the touch once you start lathering up, it could be a sign that your lymph nodes are swollen.
"Lymph nodes are small palpable mobile nodules located all over the body. More prominently they are in the throat and groin region," Johnson says. "Enlarged lymph nodes or painful lymph nodes may be a sign of infection — or even lymphoma." While it's important not to jump to conclusions, you should point them out to your doctor.
4. New Or Different Vaginal Discharge
If everything is healthy and in working oder downstairs, your vaginal discharge will be clear or milky white — both of which are totally normal. But if it's brightly colored or smelly, take note. "Yellow, green or clumpy discharge should be reported to your physician immediately," Johnson says. "This could be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection."
You can also feel around your vaginal area for any changes. "Feeling the skin of the labia with your fingers allows you to detect change that are new or abnormal," says Sherry Ross, MD, an ob/gyn and author of She-logy.
5. Signs Of Hemorrhoids
This one may require a mirror to check... but hey, why not go ahead take a peek? If you have hemorrhoids, you might be tipped off by a literal pain in your butt, or you might feel them while going to the bathroom or showering. "External hemorrhoids may be painful or not, but they would be noticed while cleaning your bottom," Johnson says. "This could be a sign of constipation."
6. Lightheadedness Or Dizzy Spells
Have you ever felt dizzy while standing under the hot shower stream? "Standing in heating water tends to unmask low blood pressure problems, called orthostatic intolerance," Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of From Fatigued To Fantastic, tells Bustle. "If present, [it] can suggest underlying adrenal fatigue ... and even Fibromyalgia. Feeling lightheaded in the shower also suggests the need to increase salt and water intake in those under 50-years-old."
7. Dry Or Patchy Skin Issues
While you're loofah-ing your bod, take note of any dry or scaly spots on your skin. "The texture of skin is important," Schreiber says. "Dry, rough spots can be a sign of hypothyroidism or liver disorders." Or, itchy patches might be a sign of dry skin or psoriasis. A trip to your dermatologist will help clear up these issues.
8. Signs Of Nail Discoloration
The shower is the perfect time to glance down at your feet, to see if your toenails look OK. Do they appear to be their normal color, or are they slightly discolored? "Nail discoloration may be a sign of possible infection," Dr. Nieca Goldberg, the medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health NYU Langone Medical Center, tells Bustle.
While a nail fungus or infection is one thing, the state of your nails can serve as a window to your health for other underlying conditions, too. If you have brittle nails, for example, it might mean you have a slow thyroid.
9. Thinning Hair
While it's normal to lose a few strands while brushing or shampooing, take note if your hair seems to be thinning, or if it feels like more is falling out than usual. Teitelbaum tells me it could be a sign of low thyroid or low iron.
10. Weird Or Unexpected Bruising
Hey, if you walked into the coffee table and now have a bruise on your shin, no need to worry. But if your body seems to be covered in unexpected bruises, or one of them looks particularly bad, Goldberg tells me it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. If you're worried about it, it never hurts to go to your doctor and ask
11. Signs Of Stress, Or Feeling Like Nothing Matters
If you happen to be dealing with a major life issue or a mental illness — like anxiety or depression — it's not uncommon to feel stressed out, anxious, or even super depressed while standing alone in the shower.
"The shower is two to ten minutes of respite. It should be able to calm your body, your emotions, and your mind. But if you can't get to that state just for those minutes, then your emotions, thoughts, and physiology are not healthy," says clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow. "It could be a one time deal, but if every shower is the same experience for a period of two weeks or more, it's time to address the larger life issues."
Because, at the end of the day — or while you're showering — the state of your health is up to you. Staying vigilant, and seeing a doctor when things seem amiss, is one of many keys to maintaining your health.