Photo: hxdbzx (Shutterstock)
Most of us perform at least a little bit of due diligence to maintain our health. We watch what we eat, we exercise, we see a doctor once a year, and we monitor ourselves and our bodies for abnormalities and ominous signs. You can absolutely take that too far,
and tip over the edge over into hypochondria. But you can also do the opposite, and ignore the little signs that might indicate a larger problem with your body.
No one wants to waste a trip to the emergency room or go to a
doctor more than absolutely necessary,
so ignoring changes in our health and hoping they just go away on their own is a common reaction, unless those changes are major and alarming. But not all signs of declining health are big and bold—some are downright subtle, and easy to ignore or miss entirely.
The things listed here aren’t necessarily signs that you’re in serious trouble, and you should always check with your physician before jumping to any conclusions. But if you notice any of these changes, it’s a good idea to at least talk to a doctor about them and make sure it’s nothing serious.
2 / 18
Unusually persistent bad breathUnusually persistent bad breath
Bad breath occasionally happens to the best of us. A spicy meal, a lazy toothbrushing session, a long night out at the bar—just about everyone has had the embarrassing realization that their breath stinks. It’s normally not a reason to worry, but if it starts happening all the time, it could be a sign of gum disease, diabetes, or even stomach cancer. It’s worth a telehealth check-in with your doctor to rule those things out.
Swollen hands or feet
While the occasional bout of swelling in your extremities—called edema—could be caused by too much salt or alcohol, if you’re suddenly dealing with swollen hands or feet all the time it could indicate that your heart and circulatory system aren’t doing so hot, or that you’re dealing with undiagnosed liver, kidney, or thyroid conditions. If you’re experiencing it a lot and changes to your lifestyle (like cutting out salt and booze) doesn’t help, get thee to a doctor.
4 / 18
Nonstop peeing and constant thirst Nonstop peeing and constant thirst
If you’ve become increasingly thirsty and are also urinating more or less nonstop, you might not be simply dehydrated—you might have diabetes. A side effect of the disease is way too much sugar in your blood, which causes your body to try to flush it out through your kidneys. If you’ve become little more than a conduit for processed water, it’s time for a checkup.
A persistent cough
We cough for a lot of reasons, and the occasional day where you can’t seem to shake yours is probably nothing. But if you’re coughing a lot, all the time, and have been for a while now, it could be an indication of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), mesothelioma, or a lingering case of COVID-19. This is especially worrying if you also feel tightness in your chest or have other problems breathing—but even a dry, annoying cough that won’t go away shouldn’t be ignored.
Some people can operate on what appears to be a series of catnaps while others need fifteen hours of sleep a day or they feel logy. As long as you feel rested and ready to go when you wake up, the amount of sleep you get probably isn’t an immediate concern. If you always feel tired—to the point of being unable to concentrate or even function—despite getting lots of rest, that’s not just “sleep debt,” that’s a potential alarm bell that could indicate something like sleep apnea, chronic fatigue syndrome, or even heart disease.
A crease on your ear
This is the very definition of subtle for those of us without medical training: If you have a diagonal crease on your ear lobe, it could be what’s called