If you’re like us, you tend to overreact when you notice anything new or strange going on with your body. A little ache in your arm? OMG cancer! A few extra hairs in your comb? Impending baldness!
While it’s good to be on guard, not every new symptom should send you racing to your doctor’s office, says Rob Danoff, DO, an osteopathic physician and director of family medicine at Philadelphia’s Aria Health System.
At the same time, Danoff says some seemingly benign symptoms—stuff most of us would brush off—are worthy of close examination, especially if they stick around for more than a week or two. “I call it body talk,” he says. “Your body does a good job of sending you signals or clues when something’s wrong.”
But sometimes those signals are super subtle. Here are a few of those signals you don’t want to ignore.
Your handwriting is shrinking.
Any changes to your handwriting could signal a developing tremor, which is an early indicator of Parkinson’s disease, Danoff says. Especially if your handwriting is getting smaller and tighter, this may be a furtive sign you’re struggling to hold your hand steady, he says. (Find out what else your hands say about your health.)
Your skin feels different.
Dry and itchy skin are common issues. But if seasonal shifts—or a new soap or moisturizer—can’t explain your sudden skin changes, you’ll want to tell your doctor if your skin suddenly seems dryer, itchier, thicker, or scaly, says Lauralee Yalden, MD, a New Jersey-based family medicine physician. “The thickening of the skin can signify high blood pressure or kidney problems,” Yalden explains. “Dry, itchy skin could be caused by an underactive thyroid, a nutritional deficiency, or even an autoimmune disorder.”
Your breath smells fruity.
“With diabetes or prediabetes, people sometimes give off this weird, almost fruity odor,” Danoff says. He and other experts attribute the smell to your body’s efforts to burn off the excess sugar in your blood stream. “You’d notice the smell, and so would people around you,” Danoff adds.
You suddenly have trouble calculating tips.
If math is an old foe of yours, a little confusion while figuring out the tip isn’t a big deal. But if you’ve always been good with numbers, problems calculating a tip or managing your finances could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia, Danoff says. “If it happens once or twice, don’t worry too much about it,” he says. “But if you keep staring at your bill and you can’t figure out what 20 pecent is, that may be something to pay attention to.”
You struggle with stairs.
Are you out of breath when you get to the top of your staircase? That’s something to keep an eye on, Danoff says. Especially if you can think back a few months and you’re sure you didn’t have stair-climbing issues before, you’ll want to notify your doctor. Being out of breath after a little stair-climbing could signal heart trouble or COPD.
You feel dizzy when you stand up.
Standing up too quickly, overexerting yourself, or simply not eating enough can make us feel dizzy or lightheaded,” Yalden says.
So can dehydration or your meds. But if you have to steady yourself “on a regular basis,” you could be grappling with issues like anemia, an inner ear problem, or heart trouble, she says.
You’re peeing all the time.
Bowel changes are tricky. Most of us see daily fluctuations in the color, consistency, and frequency of our poop and pee. But if you’re peeing all the time—we’re talking a noticeable change that keeps up for more than a week or two—that could be a sign of new-onset diabetes, an infection, prostate problems (if you’re a man), or even some bowel cancers, Danoff says. When it comes to you poo, a seaweed-green hue or sulfurous-smelling diarrhea are two changes you shouldn’t ignore.