As well as having those all-important checks at the doctor, it’s useful to take note of the signs your body can show that all is not well
Eyes and ears
Ideally, the whites of your eyes should be exactly that (not yellow or bloodshot) and, while the odd floater or twitch is not unusual, you should get your eyes checked if you experience more than that. ‘Any obvious inflammation in or around the eye needs to be checked by your GP,’ says HFG expert Dr Dawn Harper. ‘But don’t wait for symptoms before getting an eye test, as your optician can check for eye diseases and conditions such as diabetes and cancer that may have no immediate symptoms.’
It’s a good idea to have a hearing test, too, especially as you get older (many high-street opticians offer them). You should also report any suspected loss of hearing to your GP.
‘Cracks at the corner of your mouth can indicate a lack of vitamin B2, while any excessive bruising may be a sign of low vitamin C or other nutrients that affect blood clotting,’ says nutritionist Amanda Ursell. ‘Keep an eye out for any changes in moles or other skin changes that don’t disappear after a few weeks — and be sure to get them checked by your doctor,’ adds Dawn.
Find out more about the signs of melanoma and less serious non-melanoma skin cancers, as well as other skin diseases, at britishskinfoundation.org.uk.
Is your hair dry or brittle? This may be caused by harsh hair treatments, excessive washing and drying, or even excess sun exposure. ‘But it could also indicate a less-than-adequate diet,’ says Amanda. ‘In particular, low intakes of iron may result in lacklustre hair and hair loss, leading to thinning. Increased hair loss can be one of the symptoms of poor thyroid function, too, and needs to be checked by your GP,’ she adds.
Healthy nails should be strong and slightly pink. ‘Pale or concave nails may indicate a lack of iron and a yellow thickening can show a fungal infection,’ says Dawn. ‘If nails change in colour, shape or texture or there’s inflammation around the nails, it may be time to see the doctor.’
Ideally, bowel movements should be easy, with little wind and no bloating, nausea or reflux. ‘If you’re suffering from such symptoms, it may mean your digestive system isn’t functioning at its best,’ says Amanda. ‘See your doctor to rule out anything serious. If symptoms persist, it could be a dietary issue that a registered dietitian can help with.’ Always see your GP if you have any bleeding, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness, a pain or lump in your tummy, or a change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more.
You may be used to checking your breasts. Breakthrough Breast Cancer advises TLC: TOUCH your breasts to feel for anything unusual; LOOK for changes to shape or texture; and CHECK anything unusual with your GP. Men are advised to check for testicular lumps – for information on how to do this, visit checkonetwo.co.uk. ‘But these aren’t the only lumps to be aware of,’ says Dawn. ‘Any new lump, bump or growth should be seen by your doctor,’ she adds. ‘Most will be benign, but it’s wise to be familiar with what is normal so you can report any changes.’