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What's your body telling you

When simple things like headaches or chapped lips become an everyday occurrence, it’s time to pay attention. By Tanvi Saraf

india Updated: Nov 11, 2011 18:32 IST

At the first sign of a chipping nail we rush for a manicure, and a teenytiny blackhead means it’s time for a facial. As women, we’re all attentive to our beauty needs and every telltale sign gets our immediate attention. But how often do we listen to our body when it comes to health concerns? Frequent headaches are written off as lack of sleep; constant back pain means it’s been too long since you hit the gym; and perpetually chapped lips equal more tubes of lip salves. But if these ‘common’ problems become regular, it’s likely that your body is sending out an SOS, warning you of a bigger malaise. Here are some common symptoms, and what their frequent occurrence may imply.

Constant headaches

Everyone falls victim to the occasional bout of headaches and this can be due to any number of reasons, from sleep deprivation to hunger or stress. “Headaches of this nature are referred to as primary headaches. However, periodic headaches, not triggered by these factors, can have more serious implications,” says Dr Jay Kirtani, consultant, internal medicine, Max Healthcare.

Such aches could be the body’s reaction to caffeine withdrawal or discontinuation of painkillers, and need to be treated accordingly. In the long run, they could also imply a higher susceptibility to tumours, strokes, meningitis or hemorrhages.

The next Step:

The chances of your headache translating into something bleak is marginal, so for starters, don’t panic. Pay attention to the symptoms during your headache – location, duration, severity, frequency and trigger. These will help your doctor identify the underlying cause easily.

Chapped lips

An extremely common condition, chapped lips are the easiest to selfmedicate. All you need is a tube of lip balm. But they aren’t always a consequence of dehydration or excessive licking of lips. They can also mean a deficiency of Vitamin B, C and D, macrocytosis (enlargement of red blood cells) or a skin allergy, especially if accompanied by bleeding, peeling or sensitivity, says Dr Avinash.

The Next st ep:

When lips get dehydrated without any temperature change or lack of water consumption, and don’t get better by oral application of a lip balm, it’s best to get it checked by a dermatologist.

Back pain

No one’s a stranger to the occasional back pain, a result of long hours on the desk, excessive workout, lifting of heavy weights or bad posture. The good news is, ‘‘98 per cent of back pain cases aren’t related to any serious underlying pathology’’, says Kirtani. However, for the unlucky few, it could imply a herniated disc (a medical condition affecting the spine) or epidural abscess (an infection in the covering between the brain and spine).

The next st ep:

Since only 2 per cent of the cases could possibly have a more serious ailment, keep track of accompanying symptoms like severe illness or drastic weight loss before seeking serious medical intervention.

Excessive sweating

Sweating is a natural response that helps regulate body temperature. In addition to heat and humidity, it can also occur due to emotional stress such as anger, fear, nervousness, or embarrassment. However, when sweating becomes excessive, particularly during the night, it can be symptomatic of serious infections in the body.

The next st ep:

It is hard to quantify what is ‘too much’ sweating as it depends on factors like water consumption and body heat. “However, if you feel it is abnormally excessive and accompanied by hot flashes, it be a cause of concern. In most cases, excessive sweating can be treated by prescription anti-prespirants and botox injections, but it’s advisable to get it checked for anything more serious,” says Dr Avinash, Apollo Healthcare.

Easy bruising

Bruising is a purple, brown or red discolouration in the skin. When caused due to bumps, falls, sprains and trauma, it’s normal and indicates that the blood vessels in the area are broken or bleeding. However, it can be a concern when not related to any injury or disproportionate to the injury that occurred. “Easy bruising can be symptomatic of medical conditions, including autoimmune disorders and blood clotting disorders. Clotting disorders can be hereditary or due to medications, vitamin deficiency, or liver disease,” explains Dr Kirtani.

The clotting could also be the result of a low platelet count, resulting in the medical condition thrombocytopenia.

The next st ep:

If the bruising is not proportionate to the trauma, seek immediate medical care. Also, watch out for accompanying symptoms like abdominal pain, excessive menstrual bleeding, fatigue, fever, weakness, rash and joint pain.

Stomach upset

Work and busy lifestyles can wreak havoc on our meals, leading to frequent stomach upsets. These could range from a mild case of heartburn to a more serious instance of food poisoning. ‘‘If persistent, this may be pointing to gastritis,’’ says Dr Avinash.

This alone is not a serious concern, though neglecting stomach ailments can lead to the more troublesome case of stomach ulcers or an inflammatory bowel disease.

The next st ep:

In the case of stomach upsets, the key to remember is that nothing makes the condition worse than self-medication. Medicine residue burrows into the intestines and makes a person weak, draining the immune system, which can affect other organs. If the stomach upset lasts beyond a day or two and is accompanied

by nausea, head for the clinic.

First Published: Nov 11, 2011 18:25 IST