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Certain physical symptoms may indicate a deeper, more serious problem going on in the body. Paying close attention to these physical signs may help you save your life or the life of a loved one. These physical indicators can help you determine if the signs on your body are symptoms of a bigger health issue.

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Bloody stool

Seeing blood in your stool may just be the outcome of a hemorrhoid or anal fissure. But sometimes, it can be an indicator of a more serious problem. Bloody stool is the result of bleeding somewhere in the digestive tract. Dark, tarry blood in stool is usually a result of bleeding higher up in the digestive tract. Bright red blood usually indicates bleeding lower down in the digestive tract, or in the anus. Bleeding in the digestive tract could be a result of colitis, ulcers, polyps, or even cancer somewhere along the intestines.

If you think you see blood in your stool, or if blood is detected in a stool test, the doctor may order more tests to determine the cause. Or the doctor suspects that the bleeding is higher up in the digestive tract, he may order an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD). If the bleeding is suspected to come from the colon, the doctor may order a colonoscopy. Other tests that may be ordered include an enteroscopy, a barium X-ray, radionuclide scanning, an angiography, or a laparotomy.

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Bloody urine

Bloody urine, or hematuria, may not be anything serious at all. Sometimes, however, it can be an indication of an infection, a tumor, or kidney disease. Sometimes, elevated blood cells in the urine are not visible and can only be detected through a urine test. However, a person who can see a difference in color of the urine because it is red, pink, or brown, is experiencing gross hematuria. This much blood in the urine indicates a problem in either the kidney, ureters, bladder, prostate, or urethra. Sometimes it is accompanied by other symptoms, and sometimes it is not, but bloody urine always calls for a visit to the doctor.

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Chronic nosebleeds

Nosebleeds can be caused by non-life-threatening factors such as irritation, allergies, or dryness, but occasionally, it is a sign that there is something else going on. Nosebleeds can be caused by certain medications, like blood thinners, or it can indicate a blood clotting problem. Other conditions that are accompanied by nosebleeds include excessive alcohol use, leukemia, or a nasal tumor. If your child has a sudden nosebleed, consider a foreign object is lodged in the nasal cavity. If this is a possibility, bring your child to emergency care. There more often one gets a nosebleed, the more seriously one should consider a visit to the doctor. If you are experiencing nosebleeds a few times a week rather than a few times a month, contact your local health specialist.

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New spots or marks on the skin

Many people do not realize the importance of an annual visit to the dermatologist. If you start seeing a dermatologist regularly, she will most likely catch early signs of skin disease or melanoma that you will have missed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States. In 2014, 9,324 people in the US died from melanomas of the skin. In Australia, 2 out of every three people will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.

The general rule is that a dermatologist should examine any new mark or spot on the skin or any old mark that has changed shape or color. Your new spot won't necessarily indicate skin cancer. New spots on the skin can be a sign of many different conditions including fungal infection, an autoimmune disease, a rash, hives, dermatitis, acne, eczema, and many other things. So, check your skin regularly—especially if you get a lot of sun.

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Edema (swelling)

Edema is the medical term for swelling, and it can affect any part of your body, big or small. Sometimes the cause is obvious, such as a twisted ankle or a bee sting, and sometimes the cause is unknown. One of the more serious causes of edema is compromised blood flow due to either a blood clot or a blocked blood vessel. It can also indicate heart failure, because when the heart becomes weak, it cannot properly pump blood throughout the body, leading to excess fluid buildup—especially in the legs—causing edema. Edema may also be a sign of liver disease, kidney disease, or an imbalance in the substances in your blood. If edema is accompanied by shortness of breath or chest pain, seek immediate medical attention. If you are experienced prolonged swelling in any part of the body, and the cause is unknown to you, schedule an appointment with your general practitioner.

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Headache/migraine

A headache is something almost everyone will experience at some point in their lifetime. Some people experience it more often than others, and most of the time it is nothing to be concerned about. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), headache disorders are the most common disorders of the nervous system. Migraines are a type of headache disorder which is characterized by moderate to severe intensity, is often one-sided, and is sometimes accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light or sound.

Since headaches are so common, many people may not realize that certain headaches require medical attention because they indicate an underlying problem. Certain types of headaches may be symptoms of sinus infection, brain tumor, stroke, blood clot, or concussion. When should you seek medical help? Sudden onset of a severe headache, especially if it wakes you up. A severe headache accompanied by any one of the following: vomiting, confusion, fever, stiff neck, memory loss, visual disturbances, slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or seizures.

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Jaundice (yellow skin)

Jaundice is a condition in which your skin and the whites of your eyes develop a yellowish or greenish color. It is caused by elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood and is a symptom of a greater medical condition. Jaundice can indicate any of the following medical conditions: malaria, sickle cell disease, hereditary spherocytosis, thalassemia, autoimmune disorder, hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver cancer, other cancers, (pancreatic, gallbladder or bile duct) gallstones, cholangitis, pancreatitis, or parasites. Adults who experience jaundice should seek medical attention. Infants with jaundice in the first few days of their lives are most often healthy otherwise and will develop normal coloring within a few days or weeks.

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Nails

Did you know that one look at a person's fingernails is a good indication of that person's overall health? The fingernails reveal what is going on beneath the surface. They can hint to many different medical conditions if you know how to read them right. Pale nails can indicate anemia, heart failure, liver disease, or malnutrition. White nails hint to liver problems, while yellow nails are a sign of fungal infection, thyroid disease, lung disease, diabetes, or psoriasis. Blue nails reveal that a person is not getting enough oxygen. Dark lines or spots under the nail may be caused by melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer.

Other signs to look for:

  • Rippled nails: early indication of inflammatory arthritis
  • Curved nails, or nail clubbing: sign of lung disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, or AIDS
  • Spoon nails (nails that appear ‘scooped out'): may indicate anemia or a liver condition
  • Beau's lines (indentation running across the nails): usually occur alongside uncontrolled diabetes or peripheral vascular disease. They are also a sign of zinc deficiency.
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Pain

The textbook definition of pain is ‘physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.' In other words, pain is not random. It is an indication of an underlying problem. Sometimes the cause of pain is obvious—a stubbed toe or a poked eye can evoke severe physical discomfort. Other times, a person will experience pain for no apparent reason. Abdominal pain, for example, can be caused by something not life-threatening, like gas or a pulled muscle. Other times, it can indicate a serious medical condition, like appendicitis, kidney infection, pancreatitis, or a ruptured spleen.

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Redness

There are many reasons a person might experience redness of the skin. Most often, redness is caused by excess blood flow to the surface of the skin in a certain area of the body because that area needs healing. Certain chronic skin conditions are accompanied by redness of the skin including atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, or acne. Other types of redness are temporary and may be caused by allergies, bites, heat rash, diaper rash, infection or sunburn. If a certain area of the body is red, swollen, and warm to the touch, this may be a sign of infection, and you should seek medical attention. Other conditions that require medical attention include severe or large burns, redness accompanied by shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, redness accompanied by pain, redness of the eyes that is affecting your vision or accompanied by a discharge.

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Stiff neck

Ever wake up with a stiff neck that causes pain when you turn to one side? Chances are you have a bad pillow, or the air conditioning was too high in your bedroom last night. Many people experience stiff neck which goes away within a matter of a few days. However, there are a few cases in which a stiff neck requires medical attention. If a stiff neck is accompanied by a headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, unexplained fatigue, or confusion, or if it persists for more than a week, see a doctor.

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Weakness/numbness in the arms, legs, or face

Any time a person experiences weakness or numbness in the arms, legs, or face, he should immediately see a doctor. These are signs of a blood clot or a blood vessel causing a heart attack or stroke. When there is poor blood flow to the brain, it can result in stroke or brain cell death. According to the CDC, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, causing 795,000 deaths per year. In addition to weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arms, legs, or face, other signs of stroke include vision changes, trouble speaking, confusion, trouble walking or balancing, or a severe headache.

If you think that you or someone you know is having a stroke, seek immediate medical attention. If you feel something is "off" in your body, don't ignore it. Signs of underlying illness or disease can start small, and it is always best to catch it earlier, rather than later. Yearly checkups at your general practitioner, dermatologist, dentist, and gynecologist may save you from a treatable disease turned untreatable.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.