You get headaches regularly
Besides being a pain (literally), headaches—the most common form of pain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke—are often pretty harmless. But some headaches are more serious than others. Talk to a doctor if a headache is sudden and severe or is accompanied by a stiff neck or follows a blow to the head or pain in your ear or eye. Get medical attention if you have a headache and fever, convulsions, confusion, or pass out or have a fainting episode. If you’ve never had a headache before and suddenly have your first, it’s time to ask your doctor what’s up.
Your muscles cramp up
Everyone suffers from a muscle cramp now and then, especially after a tough workout; in fact, a review of studies, published in 2018 in Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, suggests that exercise-associated muscle cramps are the condition most often requiring medical treatment during sports.
But some conditions can increase the risk of having leg cramps, like being dehydrated, having low levels of electrolytes, taking certain medications, having a nerve disorder, or an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). A review of studies published in 2019 in European Journal of Neurology found that many aspects of cramping are not completely understood. Pay attention to when and how often you have muscle cramps so your doctor can determine the potential cause.
Your nails are a funky color
Nails are supposed to be pink, so if yours are venturing into any other color category, speak to your doctor. Funky-colored nails could be harmless, according to the American Academy of Dermatology; but it could also be a sign of various skin disorders, if not something more systemic, according to research, including a study published in 2015 in Indian Dermatology Online Journal.
Blue nails can mean you’re not enough oxygen in your bloodstream. White can signify liver disease or diabetes. Yellow nails can signify a nail infection or liver disease. Dusky red half moon could be a sign of heart disease, arthritis, lupus, alopecia areata (an autoimmune skin disease), or an inflammatory disease known as dermatomyositis.
You’re losing weight
Of course this doesn’t apply if you’ve started a new diet or exercise program. But “if you’re not trying to lose weight and you’re losing more than five pounds without any effort then you need to see a doctor,” says Dr. Bhatia. “The five-pound rule is a pretty safe guide—almost everyone I know fluctuates that amount—but if you’re having progressive steady weight loss, that’s something bigger and needs to be seen.”
You can blame weight loss on all sorts of disorders—from stress and chronic illness, to digestive disorders and infections, to chronic anemia and cancer, says Dr. Bhatia. See a doctor if you’ve lost more than 10 pounds (or 5 percent of your normal body weight) over a span of six to 12 months or less, and you don’t know why.
You’re gaining weight
Just like unexplained weight loss, unexplained weight gain is also something to see a doctor about. “Many people will dismiss it,” says Dr. Bhatia. “They think they can get a handle on it and before they know it 10 pounds has turned into 20 has turned into 30.”
It could be a sign of an underactive thyroid, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or Cushing’s syndrome. Did you start a new medication? Lots of drugs—like corticosteroids, birth control pills, diabetes meds, and some drugs used to treat bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression—can cause you to gain weight. “If you see your doctor at the 10- or 12-pound mark, it’s much easier to reverse it,” says Dr. Bhatia.