40 Subtle Messages From Your Body That Could Spell Serious Disease
It's time to listen up and lower your risk!
When you stop to think about it, your body is an amazing thing. Every day, you’re able to think, breathe, eat, and move, thanks to all of your systems working together. But while the body is typically a well-oiled machine, sometimes issues do arise—whether that’s in the form of disease, infection, or injury.
Fortunately, there tend to be signs when something is off. To help you notice them more easily, we’ve rounded up the subtle messages from your body that could mean you’ve got a serious disease.
At first, losing weight without even trying sounds like a dream come true. But in reality, it could be a sign that something’s seriously amiss. Inexplicable weight loss is a symptom of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The weight loss could be the result of a loss of appetite or it could occur as a direct result of the disease.
If you suddenly start gaining weight even though you haven’t changed a thing about your diet or exercise routine, it could be due to hypothyroidism. Because the thyroid hormone regulates metabolism, those who have underactive thyroid glands tend to have a low basal metabolic rate (BMR), which can play a role in weight gain, according to the American Thyroid Association.
While normal moles and freckles are generally round and regularly shaped, spots that are asymmetrical, irregularly bordered, or are increasing in size could be due to melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. That’s why performing a total body self-exam is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
“Skin cancer is the most common cancer worldwide. In the United States, there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined,” says dermatologist Keira L. Barr, MD, founder and chief wellness officer of Resilient Health Institute. “By simply ‘partying’ in your birthday suit every single month and looking for any ‘uninvited guests,’ you have the ability to save your own life.”
Dental erosion is often a subtle indicator of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). “Oftentimes, patients are unaware they suffer from GERD because they don’t have pain. As dental professionals, we can identify the unique pattern that forms from acid being regurgitated back into the mouth,” says Inna Chern, DDS, of New York General Dentistry.
“The damage is usually to the upper front teeth on the palate side and the lower back teeth on the tongue side; the areas are very smooth and often discolored due to the enamel loss,” she says. “General signs of dental erosion due to GERD include sensitivity, discoloration, thinning enamel, jagged edges, tooth pain, and eventual tooth loss due to fracture and decay.”
If you already know you have GERD, you’ll want to be on the lookout for Barrett’s esophagus, a serious complication of GERD that causes the lining of the esophagus to become irritated as a result of repeated exposure to stomach acid, according to Summit Medical Group. A simple thing to look out for is a bitter or sour taste in your mouth, as well as a hoarse or raspy voice and unexplained dry coughing.
Nail clubbing—which involves the tips of your fingers becoming enlarged and your nails curving around your fingertips—could be a sign of lung disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptom occurs slowly over time due to the low amount of oxygen in the blood.
Alzheimer’s disease wreaks havoc on your memory and mental functions, changing your behavior over time. One subtle symptom? Regularly losing things. Because of the disease, it becomes easy to forget where you put items, and oftentimes, they end up in usual places, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
Your dreams might seem unimportant, but sometimes they can tell you a lot about your health. According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, having super intense and vivid dreams or nightmares—especially if you act them out—can be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease.
Having a cold isn’t the only reason your sense of smell might start to vanish. Loss of smell—called hyposmia—is also an early sign of Parkinson’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. Because many people go years before realizing the symptom is due to Parkinson’s, it’s always a good idea to bring anything up to your doctor as soon as you notice it.
If you find you’ve been bruising more easily than normal, bring it up to your doctor. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it could be a symptom of liver failure, which occurs when a large portion of the organ is damaged due to a liver disorder.
If your gums are inflamed, it’s worth bringing the problem up to your dentist and your doctor. According to Harvard Medical School, those who have gum disease have an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
“Chronic levels of inflammation in the mouth have been linked to heart disease. The gum tissue is very vascular, and one theory is that the mouth is a portal into the bloodstream so bacteria can travel from the mouth to various other parts of the body, including blood vessels of the heart,” says Chern. “Another common theory is that the inflammatory cells present in the mouth set off a cascade of vascular damage throughout the body, leading to heart attack and stroke.”
If you wake up every morning with inflamed, stiff joints, it could be a sign of arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. In rheumatoid arthritis, the problem occurs due to the immune system attacking the lining of the joints.
Most people think a heart attack only involves grabbing one’s chest in pain. In reality, the warning signs are actually very subtle. According to the American Heart Association, a heart attack could also present as pain or discomfort in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arms.
If you commonly get canker sores in your mouth, you could among the 25 percent of people who experience the symptom due to lupus, according to the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center. The inflammatory disease causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue, leading to everything from rashes to organ damage.
If you’ve been experiencing extreme tiredness that comes on suddenly and drains you of all your energy, it could be due to fibromyalgia, a disorder that can also cause issues with your sleep, memory, and mood, according to the Mayo Clinic. It also presents in widespread pain all over your body.
Many diabetes symptoms are subtle, and one of the most telltale signs is increased thirst, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you’re always feeling the urge to reach for your water bottle, it’s something you should bring up to your doctor—especially if you also have blurred vision, increased hunger, and fatigue.
Muscle twitching shouldn’t be taken lightly. Motor neuron disease is a group of diseases that affect the nerves, causing muscle weakness and stiffness that can mess with your ability to talk, eat, and more, according to the MND Association. As the muscles weaken, uncontrollable twitching can occur.
You didn’t work out recently, so what’s up with your muscle aches? Well, if you’re often out hiking, camping, or spending time in nature, it could be a tick-borne disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being bitten by an infected tick could cause you to come down with Lyme disease—some of the most common symptoms of which are muscle aches, fatigue, headache, fever/chills, and a circular rash.
Experiencing issues like constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain, feeling super full after eating, and flatulence might seem like something you can dismiss. But according to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, those symptoms are also signs of ovarian cancer. That’s why heading to the doctor to get checked out is so important.
Bloating can occur due to what you’re eating, but it could also come about because of something more serious. One of the most visible symptoms of ovarian cancer in women is bloating, which occurs due to the build-up of excess fluid in the abdominal cavity, according to Ovarian Cancer Action.
Oftentimes, depression is thought to be something characterized by constant sadness and feelings of hopelessness. And while those are indeed signs, there are also lesser-known symptoms to be aware of, including irritability, angry outbursts, frustration, and agitation. According to the Mayo Clinic, when someone is having an episode of depression, the symptoms can occur pretty much all day, every day.
Skin rashes—called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH)—can come hand-in-hand with celiac disease, causing you to become itchy and even blister across your elbows, knees, and rear end, according to Beyond Celiac. One way to tell if it’s due to celiac or not is simple: Does the rash appear after you eat gluten? If so, it could mean you have a sensitivity or intolerance.
If you get more migraines than you can count every week, that’s something you can’t keep popping pain meds for—you should discuss it with your doctor. According to a 2016 study published in BMJ, there’s an association between migraines and cardiovascular disease, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
If your fingers change color after being exposed to cold temps—typically turning white then blue—it could be due to Raynaud’s disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, the discoloration occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the skin become too narrow. That can also cause your fingers to feel cold and numb until you warm up.
While there are many different reasons for dry eyes—including staring at your computer screen all day—a more serious culprit is Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the tear-secreting glands in your eyes, leading to a reduction in tear production and chronic dry eye issues, according to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation. It can also cause your mouth to become dry.
Swollen feet might be due to spending too much time standing up, but the problem could also be deeper than that. It could be a sign of some very serious health problems, including heart failure, liver disease, or kidney disease—all of which can cause fluid to build up, leading your feet, legs, and/or other parts of your body get puffy, according to Harvard Medical School.
You may think you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction due to your stress levels or age, but according to Harvard Medical School, it’s also a warning sign of heart disease. If your heart isn’t healthy, it’s not going to be able to properly pump enough blood for an erection.
If you’re noticing numbness or weakness in one or more of your limbs, it could be a sign of multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects your brain and spinal cord. According to the Mayo Clinic, the cause of the disease is unknown, but it can occur at any age and doesn’t currently have a cure.
Are you always scratching yourself like crazy? Don’t just chalk it up to dry skin. According to UnityPoint Health, it could be due to kidney failure, which causes a build-up of waste in your blood that can lead to severe itching. Because 26 million people in the U.S. currently have undiagnosed kidney disease, it’s important to get any small change checked out.
You always feel cold.
Always seem to have a case of the chills? When you have low thyroid production, it can result in feeling cold. According to Harvard Medical School, that’s due to the fact that your slowed-down cells are burning less energy, resulting in your body producing less heat. Because of that, you might often find yourself reaching for a sweatshirt when everyone else seems to be happy with the temperature.
Is your face looking a little puffy lately? It could be another sign of hypothyroidism, which often results in a puffy or swollen face—as well as thinning hair and muscle weakness—due to your thyroid gland not producing enough hormones, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you’ve been feeling tired, forgetful, and spaced out, it could be yet another sign of hypothyroidism. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms can occur when your thyroid gland is underactive and not producing enough of the hormones your body needs to function properly.
While millions of people experience hair loss every year, the American Academy of Dermatology says if it begins suddenly, it could be due to an illness. Two possible underlying medical conditions are thyroid disease and anemia, both of which cause hair loss that can be treated and reversed.
If you’re experiencing hemorrhoids—which are swollen veins in or around the anus and rectum that bleed, swell, itch, and cause general discomfort—it could be due to anything from a low-fiber diet to pushing too hard during bowel movements. But there are other more serious causes to be aware of, too. According to IBD Clinic, hemorrhoids—as well as skin tags and tears in the lining of the anal canal—are a symptom of Chron’s disease, which is an inflammatory bowel disease.
Most people think of osteoporosis as something that causes men and women to become shorter and easily fracture their bones. Those are indeed two symptoms, but another telltale sign is a stooped posture and back pain that’s caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra, according to the Mayo Clinic. And it doesn’t just affect older people: It can happen in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, too.
If you’ve been wondering what the heck the white patches inside your mouth or the white spots on your tongue are, it could be leukoplakia. According to the American Cancer Society, this often occurs in those who smoke or use tobacco, and if it’s not treated, it can turn into mouth cancer.
If you’ve started to have issues swallowing and the problem isn’t going away, it could be a sign of esophagus, stomach, or throat cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Don’t wait around to see whether it resolves itself—schedule an appointment with your doctor to get it checked ASAP.
If your period cramps seem to be a lot worse than other women’s, it could be because you have endometriosis. According to the Office on Women’s Health, the disorder—which involves tissue that normally lines the uterus growing outside the uterus—affects more than 11 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44. While there’s no cure, there are treatment options that can help with the symptoms.
If your skin and the whites of your eyes have started to turn yellow, it could be due to jaundice. The color is caused by high levels of bilirubin—a yellow-orange bile pigment—in your body, and it could be caused by everything from viruses and autoimmune disorders to gallbladder cancer or a pancreatic tumor, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Whenever you notice a lump on your body, get it checked out by your doctor immediately. According to the American Cancer Society, a handful of different cancer types can be felt through the skin, most often with the breasts, testicles, and lymph nodes. And for more of the health symptoms to look out for, check out 50 Silent Signs You’re Not As Healthy As You Think You Are.
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