A colleague recently shared a link to this article through Facebook: 12 Signs You’re Unhealthy That You Probably Ignore (But Shouldn’t) by Dr. Lissa Rankin, MD.
The 12 warning signs and symptoms are poor sleep, chronic fatigue, snoring, dark urine, constipation, frequent infections, anxiety, getting shorter, an “apple’ body shape, cracks at the corners of your mouth, itchy skin and recurrent rashes including acne.
More interesting than the article itself was the reader commentary.
Most of the comments related to two themes: the “alarmist” tone of the article, or its recommendation that people strive to have more than one BM per day. It surprised me how many people are completely grossed out by their bodies’ natural functions.
Dr. Rankin was writing about warning signs so the tone of the article is understandable. It can be difficult difficult to inform and advise without sounding negative.
The problem for me, and some of the other readers, was that the article presented these “warning signs” without much context. Sometimes a headache is just a headache. The key thing is figuring out if what your body is whispering to you is a passing complaint or a cry for help, and context helps you do that.
How do you determine context?
The same way doctors do, by looking at these characteristics of the signal your body is sending:
- Frequency – is your urine dark every day or once a year? The more frequent the symptom, the more attention it calls for.
- Duration – have you been constipated for all of your life or is it something that started recently? Sometimes, the change in pattern is more important that the symptom itself (although I agree with Dr. Rankin that, when it comes to bowel movements, more than once a day should be the goal). Having said that, patterns of long duration may warrant treatment. For example, a headache that resolves in 3 days is more worrisome than one that resolves on its own in an hour.
- Associated symptoms – fatigue, on its own, is a general symptom that doesn’t clearly point the way to a specific condition. But if fatigue is associated with other symptoms, such as poor sleep, snoring, headaches and high blood pressure, the picture begins to depict something more serious than transient tiredness.
- Intensity – how much is your life/health being affected by the symptom or health pattern? The intensity of a symptom is often what motivates us to have it investigated. However, a low intensity symptom that has high frequency, long duration and/or associated symptoms is important and should not be ignored.
- Obvious explanations – We all go through periods where life goes off the rails a bit. Maybe you’ve just added a child to your family and everyone is adjusting. Maybe you’ve started a new job and are still coming to terms with your additional responsibilities. Perhaps a loved one recently passed away. Big life changes will often reveal their impact through alterations in our health patterns. In the short term, these alterations are normal. Don’t ignore them, but give yourself some time (3 months at most) to get back to your “usual” before seeking treatment.
When it comes to “body talk”, context is vital. Listen to your body’s whispers, put them in context and ask your healthcare provider if you need help with the translation.