Thursday, May 15, 2014
"We used to think hair was just dead protein, but now we understand that a whole host of internal conditions affect the health of our hair," says dermatologist Victoria Barbosa, MD, who runs Millennium Park Dermatology in Chicago. "Our hair responds to stress, both the physical stressors of disease and underlying health issues, and psychological stress." Here, eight red flags that tell you it's time to pay more attention to the health of your hair -- and to your overall health in general.
More clues: Other signs of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, slow heart rate, and feeling cold all the time, says Raphael Darvish, a dermatologist in Brentwood, California. In some cases, the eyebrows also thin and fall out. A telltale sign: when the outermost third of the eyebrow thins or disappears.
What to do: Report your concerns to your doctor and ask him or her to check your levels of thyroid hormone. The most common blood tests measure the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and T4. It's also important to keep a list of your symptoms -- all of them.
"A doctor's visit is best to work up this problem; he or she may choose to do a thyroid ultrasound and a blood test in addition to an examination," says Darvish.
The state of your feet can yield unexpected clues to your overall health
Want to make a simple, ten-second check on the state of your health? Sneak a peek at your feet.
"You can detect everything from diabetes to nutritional deficiencies just by examining the feet," says Jane Andersen, DPM, president of the American Association of Women Podiatrists and a spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association.
The lowly left and right provide plenty of insightful data: Together they contain a quarter of the body's bones, and each foot also has 33 joints; 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments; and countless nerves and blood vessels that link all the way to the heart, spine, and brain.
Unresolved foot problems can have unexpected consequences. Untreated pain often leads a person to move less and gain weight, for example, or to shift balance in unnatural ways, increasing the chance of falling and breaking a bone.
So when the feet send one of these 18 warning messages, they mean business.
1. Red flag: Toenails with slightly sunken, spoon-shaped indentations
What it means: Anemia (iron deficiency) often shows up as an unnatural, concave or spoonlike shape to the toes' nail beds, especially in moderate-to-severe cases. It's caused by not having enough hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein in the blood cells that transports oxygen. Internal bleeding (such as an ulcer) or heavy menstrual periods can trigger anemia.
More clues: On fingers as well as toes, the skin and nail beds both appear pale. The nails may also be brittle, and feet may feel cold. Fatigue is the number-one sign of anemia, as are shortness of breath, dizziness when standing, and headache.
What to do: A complete blood count is usually used to diagnose anemia. A physical exam may pinpoint a cause. First-step treatments include iron supplements and dietary changes to add iron and vitamin C (which speeds iron absorption).
What it means: Poor circulation, usually caused by vascular disease, can make hair disappear from the feet. When the heart loses the ability to pump enough blood to the extremities because of arteriosclerosis (commonly known as hardening of the arteries), the body has to prioritize its use. Hairy toes are, well, low on the totem pole.
More clues: The reduced blood supply also makes it hard to feel a pulse in the feet. (Check the top of the foot or the inside of the ankle.) When you stand, your feet may be bright red or dusky; when elevated, they immediately pale. The skin is shiny. People with poor circulation tend to already know they have a cardiovascular condition (such as heart disease or a carotid artery) yet may not realize they have circulation trouble.
What to do: Treating the underlying vascular issues can improve circulation. Toe hair seldom returns, but nobody complains much.