Once you climb out of the shower every morning, there are a few simple things you can do to help prevent or identify serious health conditions, including cancer.
One of the many wonderful things about your body is that it has built-in sickness sensors, and experts say you can spot early warning signs of even serious conditions simply by looking at your body.
1. Check your nails
If you see dark lines on the nail beds, it could mean you have skin cancer. Yellowish, brown, or black stripes are a sign of cell damage, possibly from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, said Ariel Ostad, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City.
With early detection and treatment, though, about 95 percent of cases are curable, so have your dermatologist take a second look.
If you see long, white, horizontal bands of discoloration on the nail’s surface and you’ve been feeling fatigued lately, it could be bad news for your kidneys.
“These bands can be a signal that the kidneys aren’t able to filter out protein from your urine,” Ostad said. That means your body is losing protein faster than you can shovel in filet mignon – and that can lead to kidney failure. Visit your doctor ASAP for a urine test.
2. Check your armpits
If you see a patch of rough, dark skin, it could be a diabetes warning. Excess insulin in your bloodstream can cause skin cells to multiply abnormally fast, leading to a buildup of tissue and melanin. This makes the skin look darker and feel thicker, and most commonly occurs in the armpits, neck, or groin. A simple blood test can determine whether you have the disease.
3. Check your eyelids, knees, and elbows
If you see small, soft lumps that look white or waxy, they could be small deposits of cholesterol. Unfortunately, this sign could mean your cholesterol levels are unhealthy; a serious risk factor for heart disease.
The good news is that reducing your numbers by just 10 percent slashes that risk by as much as a third. See your doctor for a cholesterol check, and ask them about lifestyle changes or prescription drugs that can get your levels down.
4. Check your scalp
Thinning hair is a common indicator of a thyroid disorder, which affects about 10 percent of American women. When your thyroid (a gland in the middle of your neck) is out of whack, it can disrupt the balance of male and female sex hormones. The result: More strands in your brush and hair that feels coarse and brittle, said Sandra Fryhofer, M.D., a physician in private practice in Atlanta. Your doctor can measure the amount of thyroid-stimulating hormone in your blood–if you have too much or too little, you’ll need medication to regulate it.
Excessive scalp shedding can mean you have a lot of stress. Stress can cause excessive amounts of the hormone cortisol to overwhelm your immune system and dry out your scalp. A drugstore dandruff shampoo can help, but you should also try to get more sleep, breathe more deeply, and unpack that overpacked schedule.
5. Check your abs
If you see thick, dark hair (or stubble) extending toward your belly button in a diamond shape (rather than growing downward from the top of the pubic bone), it could be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), said Pamela Berens, M.D., an OB-GYN at the University of Texas Medical School.
Caused by the overproduction of androgens, the condition can lead to irregular or heavy periods, weight gain, acne, and thick, dark hair on the belly, face, chest, and back. As many as one in 10 women have PCOS, which can be a risk factor for serious problems like infertility and heart disease. If you have symptoms, see your OBGYN; she might prescribe birth control pills to get your hormones back in check.
6. Check your tongue
If you see a white, yellow, or orange coating, it could mean you’re suffering from acid reflux. Normally, a oneway valve at the bottom of the esophagus makes sure that whatever goes down doesn’t come back up. Acid reflux occurs when this valve opens spontaneously and the contents of your stomach make a break for your throat, leaving your tongue coated in digestive acids.
Most reflux can be treated with over-the-counter antacids or simply by avoiding acidic and spicy foods; if those measures don’t work, see your doctor. You may need prescription meds to reduce your body’s production of stomach acid.
7. Check your eyes
If you see undereye circles that won’t go away, you could have allergies. Essentially, once an allergen hits your body, which in response releases histamine, this chemical makes blood vessels swell with blood and other fluids, often resulting in dark patches where the skin is thinnest. A skin test can determine which allergen is causing your symptoms.
As you can see regularly checking your skin can save your life and help you catch something that is off before it is too late.