Though sudden physical changes or new symptoms can be due to changes in the weather or short periods of stress, they can also be important clues about your health and may signal that you need to visit a doctor.
“While it can be tempting to put off getting these issues checked out until your yearly physical, it is extremely important that if you have had any unusual symptoms for more than a month to go visit your healthcare provider sooner rather than later,” says Baylor College of Medicine expert Isabel Valdez, a physician assistant and instructor of family and community medicine.
Here Valdez gives her expert advice on what new or persistent symptoms may mean, and when you need to have them checked out.
“Often when patients come in with a cough that has been going on for several months and there are no signs of an infection, we consider rare causes like acid reflux,” Valdez said. “Many people don’t usually associate a cough with acid reflux but it is one of the top causes of cough when you have stomach problems like indigestion.”
A cough could also be a sign of allergies, caused by mucus draining through the back of the throat and irritating it, or by certain blood pressure medications, so it’s important to visit your doctor to find out more.
Unintentional weight loss
If you unexpectedly lose weight, Valdez recommends visiting your doctor for blood tests to check for a deficiency, blood sugar problems, or thyroid issues as weight loss can be a sign of problems such as diabetes.
If a person with diabetes notices that they are losing weight, their blood sugar levels might not be within healthy ranges, or it might suggest other complications.
Changes in bowel movements
Frequent stomach aches or changes in the bowels could be a sign that you have developed an intolerance to a certain food, or they may be caused by stress or anxiety. Sometimes when you are extremely anxious, you may eat or drink foods that are less healthy for you, which can irritate the lining of your stomach or even change your bowel movements.
Bowel habits also can change if you have been on antibiotics, as the medication can kill off the good bacteria that help keep your gut flora balanced. Taking probiotics can help replace that good bacteria.
If you feel like your hair is thinning and falling out excessively, this, like weight loss, could signal an issue with your thyroid, or a sign of vitamin or nutritional deficiency.
However, if you have had any recent major physical changes, such as a pregnancy or are recovering from a surgery, hair can thin out as your body focuses all its energies on helping you heal, which takes away from its ability to produce the cells that help your hair grow at its usual rate.
Changes with your skin
Dry skin could be due to your body not being properly hydrated, or a more serious issue such as a problem with your thyroid, which would need to be tested by a doctor.
Valdez also advises seeing your doctor if you notice pink patches on your legs, particularly near the ankles. Patches of pink which do not cause itching or discomfort are called venous stasis dermatitis, and are a sign of circulation issues.
If skin bruises easily, or if bruises take too long to heal, this could mean that you are having a clotting issue that may also require testing.