4 signs of a serious health problem

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | General Health | Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 05:01 AM

shutterstock_24058180As you age, natural changes to your appearance are bound to occur. You may be noticing more wrinkles, or that your skin doesn’t feel as tight as it used to. Some of these changes may not come as a surprise or cause for concern…

But what if they were your body’s way of telling you something more serious is going on? Would you even know to get them checked out?

Serious health issues can disguise themselves in the form of changes in your appearance. Unfortunately, if you don’t know the signs, you can’t take the necessary precautions to keep the illness from getting worse.

Below are four signs to which you may want to pay closer attention.

1. Dry, chapped lips

It’s easy to dismiss dry, chapped lips as simply a lack of moisture, but the severity of the dryness could be signaling other issues.

For starters, cracked lips could be a sign of a reaction to medication or even an allergy or infection. But pay attention to where your lips are cracking to really narrow in on a health concern.

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If your lips are cracking more around the corners, this could be a sign of Sjögren – pronounced SHOW-grin. This illness is an immune disorder mainly affecting women over the age of 40. Sjögren’s can leave you with dry eyes and mouth, while other symptoms include joint pain, skin rashes and a persistent dry cough. This is an autoimmune disease where the body mistakenly attacks itself.

Although there is no real cause, the Mayo Clinic suggests individuals with certain genes may be at higher risk.

If keeping your lips moist doesn’t seem to be working, you may want to take this as a symptom for something more serious and follow-up with your doctor.

2. Swollen feet

There are endless causes for swollen feet, so you may never regard it as a real health issue. Standing all day, uncomfortable shoes, weight, injury to the ankle or feet, and even ingesting too much salt can all be causes for your feet to swell. But they can point to additional problems.

A swollen foot could be a sign of gout. Gout is a difficult form of arthritis, with symptoms such as sharp, sudden pain, swelling of the joints within the foot – usually around the big toe – and a decrease in joint movement. Not treating gout at its first signs can lead to long-term joint damage and infection.

Swollen feet can also reveal issues of the heart. The National Institutes of Health suggests they can be a sign that the veins of the leg are not pumping blood correctly back to the heart. Also, this could be a sign of heart failure as your body starts to retain more fluid because the heart is not pumping properly.

Clearly, these concerns should not be overlooked. If you are often noticing that the swelling in your feet is not going down, take this as a sign of an underlining health problem.

3. Wrinkles

When you think of aging, you probably think of wrinkles first and foremost. As we age, our skin starts to lose its elasticity, its thickness, and its ability to protect itself, which is why wrinkles occur.

If wrinkles happen as we age, they could be revealing information about your bone health.

A study out of the Yale School of Medicine established a linked between skin appearance and bone health. Because bones and skin both contain collagen, researchers theorized that examining a women’s skin could provide an estimate about their bone health. If their skin contains many wrinkles, this suggest a larger decrease in collagen which can also make bones more brittle.

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The researchers looked at 114 postmenopausal women and tested their facial skin for wrinkles, measuring how deep they were. The women’s bone density was also taken for comparison. The researchers concluded that those participants with tighter skin also had a greater bone density; those with weaker, more wrinkled skin had a lower bone density. The researchers noted that further testing to clearly determine the association is needed, but their study makes a case for getting bone density checked.

So the next time you look in the mirror and notice a few deeper wrinkles, you may want to consider a bone density test as well.

4. Moles

If you were born with a mole you probably never thought of it as being anything more than a birthmark.

But now that you’re older you may want to take a closer look. Has it changed color? How about size? These are important questions to ask yourself as they can determine whether or not you should seek medical advice.

Melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, starts off as a mole usually with an asymmetrical shape, various colors, and about a one-quarter inch in size.

If you have multiple moles, it does not necessarily mean you have melanoma, but they could increase your risk of getting it. These types of moles are called atypical, are usually odd-shaped and also come in various colors.

A “spitz nevus” mole is oftentimes confused with melanoma because dermatologists cannot tell the difference by just looking at it. These moles are pinkish in color and can burst, which can cause bleeding.

Whether you were born with a mole or developed it later in life, it is always best to keep a keen eye on it for any changes.

The next time you’re looking at your appearance, make sure you are paying attention to any new changes. Maybe a line that wasn’t there before, or spots that may appear on your body. This could be your body’s way of letting you know something more serious may need treatment. As always, err on the side of caution and talk to your doctor.

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