Things like snoring and hair loss may be totally harmless. But if any of these 14 symptoms persist, don’t ignore the warning signs.
Signs from your body
Maybe you’re losing more hair or gaining some extra weight. Perhaps you’re always tired or your partner says you snore. There are probably harmless reasons for these everyday happenings. But maybe there’s something more serious going on. From gassiness to sleepiness, muscle cramps to weirdly colored nails, here’s a look at some hidden signs you might not be as healthy as you think.
Just because you follow doctor’s orders—you eat your greens, choose organic when you can, exercise regularly, and get eight hours of sleep each night (err, most nights)—doesn’t mean that your health is in the clear. You may think your post-dinner bloat is totally normal, but sometimes a subtle symptom like that can signal a more serious health issue.
Simple reasons for bloating include constipation, overeating, or reflux. More serious causes include infection, inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and some medications.
“When you eat too much, or you eat food you’re not supposed to eat, you’ll have temporary discomfort, and you might not feel good for 20 or 30 minutes,” says Tasneem Bhatia, MD, a board-certified integrative medical expert in Atlanta, and author of Super Woman Rx. “But then it usually dissipates, as the digestive system takes over.
“A one-time thing is easy to ignore as long as the pain isn’t lasting,” says Dr. Bhatia. But “if it happens more than three times, or if the pain lasts more than 12 to 24 hours, you need to be examined by a physician.”
Snoring happens when air can’t move freely through your mouth and nose as you sleep—the muscles in your throat relax and your tongue can slip back in your throat—and can be caused by adenoids, nasal polyps, or even just a stuffy nose. If you’re overweight or have had a lot to drink, you’re more likely to snore.
“Snoring can also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea,” says Albert Wu, MD, director of the Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. That’s when your upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly while you sleep, causing you to partially or completely stop breathing for a few seconds. “The resulting disruption of sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, crankiness, difficulty concentrating, high blood pressure, and heart conditions.”
How to know if your snoring is cause for concern?
“If your partner notices that you stop breathing for long periods of time, you should consult a specialist,” says Dr. Wu. “Treatments for simple snoring include losing weight, treatment for allergies, sleeping on your side instead of your back, and avoiding alcohol before bedtime. If snoring is caused by sleep apnea there are dental mouthpieces that keep your airway open, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks that direct pressurized air to keep your airway open during sleep.”
Believe it or not, passing gas 13 to 21 times a day is normal. A lot more or a lot less than that could indicate a problem.
“Not passing gas indicates that your bowels aren’t functioning properly, but passing gas too much or too often can indicate a food intolerance, or a digestive disorder like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or celiac disease,” says Dr. Wu. “You should see a doctor if you have persistent and unexplained flatulence. You should also do so if you have symptoms along with it, such as abdominal pain, a swollen stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, unintended weight loss, severe heartburn, or blood in your bowel movements.”
You’re always tired
If you always feel lethargic (no matter how many hours of shut-eye you get), it’s definitely worth talking to your MD. Unlike drowsiness, which is the need to sleep, fatigue is lack of energy and motivation. It can be a normal response to lack of sleep, lots of physical activity, stress, or even boredom. But fatigue can also be a sign of a number of health problems.
“Missing sleep, almost any illness, and many medications can cause temporary fatigue,” says Dr. Wu. But “persistent fatigue can be caused by a number of serious conditions including anemia, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, cancer, thyroid disorders, chronic infection, and arthritic conditions. It can also be caused by depression and anxiety disorders.”
You can’t sleep
It’s one thing to have trouble falling asleep when you just aren’t tired, but if you can’t get any Zzzs despite feeling exhausted, it’s worth bringing up with your doctor. Acute insomnia is short term and can be brought on by stress at work or at home or a traumatic event.
Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, “is a common problem, and can simply be a sign of aging, lack of activity, or consuming too much caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol,” says Dr. Wu. “It can also be caused by medications like cold remedies that include stimulants, some antidepressants, and medications for asthma or high blood pressure.”
Other causes of insomnia include “mental health problems like anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Wu. “It can be a sign of some medical conditions like chronic pain, overactive thyroid, GERD, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.”
You have bad breath
Bad breath—or halitosis—is the most common reason for dental referrals, after tooth decay and gum disease, according to a review of studies published in 2018 in The Open Dentistry Journal. Sure, the culprit could be all that garlic you consumed at your last meal. But sometimes bad breath is a sign of something more serious.
Usually caused by bacteria on your teeth and tongue, bad breath can be linked to poor brushing and flossing habits, or oral issues like dry mouth, gingivitis, or periodontitis. In some cases, sinusitis, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and some gastrointestinal issues can also trigger bad breath. If brushing and flossing doesn’t help, see your doctor or dentist.