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vital: Read your body signs; Simple symptoms like puffy lips or restless legs could be early indicators of underlying health problems.

Byline: By Nan Spowart

LIFELESS hair, dry lips, unsightly nails or a bad taste in the mouth hit most of us at some point in our lives.

The chances are that they have simple, harmless causes like overheated houses or too many nights out on the tiles, but occasionally they may be indicators of underlying health problems.

These body signs are, in fact, excellent clues about our state of health and by learning to decode them, we can be our own diagnostic detectives.

One woman who knows all about the potential danger of ignoring such signs is Joan Liebmann-Smith who nearly died when her thyroid became seriously overactive.

Although she had been losing sleep, hair and weight, she put the cause down to nursing her new baby round the clock.

It was only after a relative forced her to see a doctor that her condition was diagnosed and her life was saved.

Now, along with medical writer Jacqueline Egan, who has survived breast cancer, she has written a book about body signs and what they mean.

Its publication is especially poignant for the two women as Jacqueline's close friend Corinne died of ovarian cancer while it was being written.

She and her doctors tragically missed a subtle sign of ovarian cancer - abdominal bloating.

The authors say they don't want to scare people - just help them become good diagnostic detectives.

Here are some of the signs to look out for:


If it has become dry, brittle or coarse, it could be time to see your doctor. These are classic signs of hypothyroidism, a fairly common but often under diagnosed condition especially among women.

Hair texture change can signal iodine deficiency which is also implicated in thyroid disease.

If you are pregnant and your hair seems thinner than usual, mention it to your doctor as you may have a mineral or vitamin deficiency which could affect the pregnancy.

Bands of discoloured or depigmented hair are often red flags for severe nutritional deficiencies in protein or iron.

They can be a sign of anorexia nervosa or other conditions that deplete protein such as ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.

People with prematurely grey hair may suffer from pernicious anaemia, which, if left untreated, can cause serious problems.

It may also be a warning sign of diabetes, coronary heart disease and an increased risk of heart attacks. The combination of grey hair and dark eyebrows in men can signal a high risk of diabetes.


Circles under the eyes are often a sign of underlying medical conditions such as eczema and allergies. Dark circles can also be a warning that you've been doing too much sunbathing. Bags under the eyes can be a sign of dehydration.

If your previously normal eyelid suddenly droops, call your doctor immediately as you may have a brain injury or tumour. If it is accompanied by double vision, weakness in your muscles, severe headache or difficulty in speaking, you may be having a stroke. If your eyes start to bulge, you could have Graves disease, where the thyroid hormone increases to dangerous levels.

Chronic bloodshot eyes are a red flag that you have ocular rosacea which if left untreated can lead to impaired vision.

A sudden change in the size of one pupil can signal a life-threatening condition such as a cerebral haemorrhage, brain tumour, meningitis, encephalitis or aneurysm. Watery eyes can mean a vitamin B2 deficiency.


If your lower lip is puffy and has red or white spots, you may have a precancerous condition called actinic cheilosis.

Dry lips can be a sign of dehydration. Lips and mouths that tingle, burn or even feel numb may be giving out the earliest signs of a cold sore.

It may be a sign of calcium or vitamin D deficiency or even an early sign of kidney disease or diabetes.


Women with differently sized breasts should be especially diligent about mammograms as a study found that irregularities in breast symmetry may signal an increased risk of breast cancer.

Red and swollen breasts, particularly if they are warm to the touch, may be a sign of an aggressive form of breast cancer.

To confuse the issue, a lump is uncommon in this kind of cancer.


Clubbed fingers can be a sign of lung cancer, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, heart disease, liver disease and hyperthyroidism.

Body Signs: How to be Your Own Diagnostic Detective is available now, priced pounds 12.99.


Runny noses can be caused by allergies or colds, but a continuously drippy nose is often a sign of snorting cocaine, heroin or other drugs. If you do not do drugs and do not have a cold, then a runny nose can sometimes mean a more serious problem.


Restless legs have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome and it's also associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Nocturnal cramps are often harmless but can sometimes be a sign of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, anaemia and thyroid problems. Daytime cramps can be a sign of deep vein thrombosis.


SIGN POST: Grey hair and a runny nose could lead to the diagnosis of a bigger problem PICTURE: REX FEATURES
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 12, 2008
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