What the Mirror Can Tell You About Your Health

Are you plagued with splitting or brittle nails? Or perhaps your hair is dull and thinning? Your body can predict scary diseases months before you'd spot them otherwise.
Are you plagued with splitting or brittle nails? Or perhaps your hair is dull and thinning? Your body, particularly your skin, nails, hair and weight can all predict scary diseases months before you’d spot them otherwise. Find out when a pimple’s just a pimple, and when it’s something more.

Dr. Andrew Petersen is a leading expert in Thyroid Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Hormonal Disorders and joined us on ABC 4 Utah Midday.

He says your nails can tell you some things about your health.  For instance, certain changes in the nails can point to particular diseases.
As far as your skin is concerned, by now you know the drill when it comes to melanoma: any funny-looking mole should be seen by a doctor, stat. But other warning signs can show up on your skin too. They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, but the skin is the mirror to your health. It’s involved with all of the different organs—from the liver to the thyroid and everything in between—and shows how well the body is functioning. Of course, doctors will tell you that context is everything: bruises that appear upon the slightest contact could signal conditions as serious as leukemia or diabetes. You want to keep an eye out for any sudden and unexplainable change.

From time to time you may notice fluctuations in your body weight. When you think about it, you can usually find an explanation — maybe you've been exercising less or eating more. These types of fluctuations are normal. The time to be concerned about weight loss or gain is when the cause isn't readily apparent. That's when you should see a physician.

Dr. Petersen talks about some of the common contributors or underlying health conditions that trigger changes in our appearance.

Low Thyroid
•Research shows that changes in your hair's look, texture, or thickness can be signs of underlying health conditions, like thyroid disease. People who have the thyroid disease called hypothyroidism might notice increased hair shedding and a change in appearance. Hypothyroidism means your thyroid isn't working effectively. It can change the look of your hair and cause other symptoms, such as tiredness, cold intolerance, joint pain, muscle pain, a puffy face, and weight gain.
•The most common medical condition that causes weight gain is hypothyroidism. A deficiency of thyroid hormone can decrease metabolism, causing appetite loss and weight gain.
•Thyroid disorders (like hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism) are most often associated with weight loss and weight gain, respectively. However, doctors frequently link up nail changes with thyroid diseases, too. Spoon nails, which are nails that are concave and look scooped away from the finger, can be a symptom of hypothyroidism.

Cardiovascular Disease
•Splinter hemorrhages, which are thin red or reddish brown lines under the nails, can be a sign of heart valve infection or vasculitis. While they may look like splinters, they're actually lines of blood. Also, congenital heart abnormalities can lead to clubbing of the nails. In clubbing, nails soften and appear to float above the nail bed, which has usually become wider and rounder than normal.

Diabetes
•Diabetes can lead to yellowing of both the skin and nails, but is usually more evident in nails. The color change is probably caused by glucose connecting with the collagen proteins in the nail. If your yellow nails are not going back to a normal shade, and if you're also experiencing other symptoms of diabetes like increased thirst and urination, you should see your doctor right away.

Cushing’s Syndrome
•Brittle hair is one symptom of Cushing's syndrome. However, there are many other more obvious symptoms of this rare condition caused by excess cortisol, including high blood pressure, fatigue, and back pain.

Anemia
•If you are suddenly noticing a lot more hair in your hairbrush or on your shower floor, this could be a sign that your body has low iron stores, or anemia, and may warrant testing.

Stress
•When a person becomes stressed, the level of the body’s stress hormone (cortisol) rises. This in turn causes an increase in oil production, which can lead to oily skin, acne and other related skin problems.
•Stress may be the primary reason for unexplained hair loss. When someone is under stress, hair can go into the telogen (fall-out) phase. Telogen effluvium is a very common hair loss problem that can occur up to three months after a stressful event.
•Nails are not immune to showing outward signs of stress, and some people develop the nervous habit of biting their nails or picking at them when they feel stressed. In addition, physical or emotional stress, certain diseases can cause white horizontal lines to appear across the nails. Brittle, peeling nails also are a common side effect of stress.

Nutritional Defiencies
•You are what you eat: Beauty on the inside will reflect beauty on the outside. Healthy nutritional choices include omega-3 fatty acids, lean proteins and iron to help support healthy hair, skin and nails. Nails can reflect some nutritional deficiencies, such as low levels of iron, biotin and protein.
Examples:
•Not enough zinc shows up as slow wound healing, fragile hair, hair loss.
•Not enough iron shows up as spoon-shaped nails, cracks at corner of mouth.
Not enough VITAMIN C shows up as scurvy, bleeding gums, wounds don't heal, bruising, weakness.
Not enough vitamin B2 (riboflavin) shows up as cracks at corner of mouth, waxy dermatitis around creases of nose, oily skin with dry, flaky patches.
•Not enough vitamin B3 (niacin) shows up as flushed, sunburnt looking skin.
•Not enough vitamin B6 shows up as skin rashes, dermatitis.
Not enough essential fats, omega-3 and omega-6 shows up as dry, itchy scalp and skin.
3.What are some of the symptoms or signs we need to look for with our skin, hair, nails and weight that might signal a more serious health problem, such as thyroid disorder?
For skin, look for things such as:
•Worsening acne or breakouts
•Dry mucous membranes (i.e. mouth, eyes) are especially dry
•Puffiness around the eyes
•Face, throat, palms and/or elbows are flushed
•Coloring and/or lips are pale
•Patches of unpigmented skin (vitiligo)
•Waxy, reddish-brown lesions on my lower legs, feet, toes, arms, face, shoulders and/or trunk.
•Skin is rough, coarse, dry, scaly, itchy, and thick
•Blister-like bumps on my forehead and/or face
•Skin is yellowish
•Skin is itchy

For hair, look for things such as:
•Frequent hair loss, more than normal
•Thinning eyebrows (outer edge)
•Hair has become finer
•Hair can no longer hold a perm or a curl
•Hair has become rough and coarse
•Hair has become dry
•Hair has been breaking and has become brittle

For nails, look for things such as:
•Nails are more shiny than usual
•Nails are dry, more brittle, break more easily
•Nails are softer
•Nail bed is separating from my finger
•I feel thirsty much of the time

For weight changes, look for things such as:
•Unusually hungry
•No appetite
•Losing weight, even though I haven’t changed my diet and exercise
•Rapid and/or dramatic weight loss without particularly dieting
•Craving and/or eating more carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta, sweets, fruits, sugary foods, etc.)
•Diabetic, and having symptoms of poor blood sugar control (hunger, shakiness when hungry)
•Able to eat more and not gain weight
•Able to eat more and am still losing weight
•Can’t gain weight, even if I eat more
•Gaining weight without a change in diet or exercise
•Unable to lose weight, despite proper diet and exercise

For a comprehensive list of symptoms that may indicate that you have a thyroid disorder, visit http://nahypothyroidism.org/comprehensive-list-of-thyroid-symptoms-printable-checklist/ .

If you are worried that your appearance may be linked to a serious underlying health condition, contact Dr. Petersen at Holtorf Medical Center.  He will spent time with you, listen to you, and become better acquainted with your history so they can diagnose and treat you.  You will be asked to fill out an in-depth health history questionnaire before you ever visit the center.  This will give a clear picture of symptoms and treatment history, current issues and other information.  From there, Dr. Petersen will begin to outline a treatment plan that is very specific to each patient.

 For more information on Holtorf Medical Group visit HMGUtah.com  or call (801) 821-5384 to talk to a patient representative.


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