When things are going wrong with our health, our bodies give us signs to tell us. Unfortunately, we Brits are notoriously bad at acting on these signs and instead we ignore them, telling ourselves they are not serious and will eventually go away.
But some of the most common signs that we ignore deserve proper attention, and for good reason. They could be an indicator that something else is not functioning well.
1. Poor sleep
Not many of us link our sleeping patterns to our overall health but sleep plays a huge role in keeping our immune system functioning at its best. Waking up frequently during the night or failure to get a deep sleep are signs that need to be taken seriously.
2. Feeling anxious
Feeling anxious can at times be a response to things that are happening in our lives. Maybe you have a large presentation to do at work, or you’re moving house and have to co-ordinate it with school and work schedules.
Sometimes, though, anxiety can take root and be present all the time, and this is when it becomes dangerous. Although feelings of anxiety relate most often to psychological stressors, they can also be a sign that something physically is not quite right.
Constipation leads to a person feeling out of sorts very quickly. Overindulgence can be the culprit, but if constipation continues for a few days, it could be an indication of something other than too much rich food and needs to be discussed with a doctor.
4. Weight around the middle
Overindulgence during a holiday or a series of celebrations can put a few extra pounds of weight on you. But if you don’t lose them again once you’re back in your usual routine, that’s cause for concern.
Extra pounds that creep up and sit on your abdomen and don’t shift are an indication that you need to radically change your lifestyle and get a medical check-up. Storing fat around your abdomen puts you at higher risk of heart disease.
5. Getting out of breath
Getting out of breath too easily can be a sign that we are out of shape and need to get fit, but it can also be a sign of something more serious relating to the heart or to the respiratory system, such as asthma or pneumonia. It’s a sign that really should be listened to, and if you experience a sudden shortness of breath, it is crucial to call your GP immediately.
6. Dark urine
Every time you go to the loo, you can see your hydration levels just by taking a look in the toilet bowel. Dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration. A pungent smell is also a giveaway sign. Fizzy drinks, tea and coffee don’t hydrate you the way water does. Dehydration can cause headache, tiredness, dry lips and eyes, dizziness and more.
7. Always feeling tired
Feeling tired because you haven’t had enough sleep is understandable. But if you sleep well yet wake up in the morning feeling as tired as before you went to bed, you could have fatigue. This has to be looked at, as there are a range of causes.
Some you can take care of, such as not eating sufficient food to give you energy for the day, or eating sugary foods that cause energy peaks and crashes. Some can be fairly easily remedied, such as a urinary tract infection, with antibiotics, or a food intolerance, with a supervised elimination diet. But some are more serious, such as anaemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, Coeliac disease or an underactive thyroid.
8. Losing height
Bone health needs to be taken as seriously as heart health. If you are losing height, take it as a sign that you need to see your doctor. All is not lost as calcium, vitamin D and weight-bearing exercises can help you support your bones and ensure that you don’t lose any more height.
This will be hard to ignore if you have a partner. Smoking, alcohol, being overweight and allergic rhinitis are the more frequent causes. But, embarrassing though you may think your snoring is, it has to be investigated to rule out pulmonary hypertension or sleep apnoea (often the cause of excessive daytime sleepiness), a dangerous condition in which your airways temporarily become partially or fully blocked.
10. Cracked lips
This is a sign that very few of us would think of as anything other than dry skin and perhaps not drinking enough water. But cracked lips could be telling us we are lacking some key vitamins. These include deficiencies in B6 (related to dermatitis and skin disorders), B3 (involved in heart health and cholesterol levels) and zinc (necessary for thyroid function, immune function, would healing and more).
11. Skin problems
Our skin is our largest organ of elimination. It works along with the kidneys and liver to flush out the toxins in the body. Skin conditions such as acne, eczema or a rash could be alerting you to underlying health issues such as an allergy or poor lifestyle choices. Skin conditions can also flare up when our stress level is too high.
12. Regular colds and flu
You might think colds and flu are something we all get in winter – but they’re not. It’s a sign your immune system is low. An immune system that is in peak health won’t catch every cold and flu that’s doing the rounds.
If you get ill every time your family, friends or colleagues do, it’s time to book a consultation with your doctor to rule out any underlying causes.
There is a lot of help online to help you understand what many of the above signs may mean, but there is also a lot of misinformation. Refer only to reputable sites such as NHS Choices or WebMD Symptom Checker or, better still, especially if you’re worried, see your GP.