For as much time as we’ve spent in our own bodies, we’re actually pretty terrible at paying attention to the subtle signs and symptoms our body gives us on a daily basis. “Most of us aren’t taught to tune in with our bodies, therefore unless you make a practice out of it, you’re probably not sure what ‘normal’ means for you, or you’ve gotten used to a ‘normal’ that’s actually less than optimal,” says Jaclyn Tolentino, DO, a board-certified family physician at Parsley Health. Sure, sometimes a spontaneous case of hiccups is just hiccups or brittle nails are just a sign you need a break from manicures.
But sometimes seemingly benign signs—especially if ignored or if combined with other health symptoms or occurrences—can also be harbingers of deeper issues. And oftentimes we don’t tune in to the signs until we feel really poorly: “We see many patients at Parsley Health that come to us after they’ve felt ill for a long time, but finally reached the point at which they couldn’t put off getting help any longer,” Dr. Tolentino says.
Below are just a few health symptoms Dr. Tolentino says you shouldn’t ignore if they become problematic.
A little bloating is entirely normal, especially if you ate a meal higher in fiber than you’re used to, ate an especially heavy meal, or consumed a lot of added or artificial sweeteners. But consistent bloating or bloating with gas and distension (think: looking six months pregnant when you’re not) can be a sign of underlying gut health conditions like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), gut dysbiosis, or food sensitivity, intolerance, or allergy.
Dr. Tolentino warns that it’s “not normal to have frequent episodes of bloating. Consistent bloating is part of the way that your gastrointestinal system is telling you there’s something off.” Sometimes, the fix may be as simple as avoiding foods that trigger bloating, such as those high in FODMAPs, or you may need to treat an underlying infection. If you’re dealing with chronic bloating, it may be time to visit a healthcare provider.
Unexplained weight gain or loss
If you suddenly start to feel like your clothes are fitting too loosely or tightly and you’re not actively trying to lose or gain weight, it’s always good to mention changes to your doctor. Unexplained weight gain or loss is one common sign of thyroid or other hormonal imbalance. When you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), your body’s metabolism can speed up, leading to weight loss, while an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can slow down your metabolism and result in weight gain.
Weight gain could also be a sign of other hormonal issues like dysregulated ghrelin, excess cortisol, or elevated testosterone. Digestive health problems like bacterial overgrowth or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may also contribute to weight gain.
Weight loss, on the other hand, when accompanied by GI symptoms, could be a sign of gastrointestinal issues like inflammatory bowel disease, a parasite, or celiac disease. Because unexplained weight gain or loss can be signs of many different conditions, if you experience either, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider.
In general, sweating should be expected when working out or doing other physical activities, since it’s your body’s way of cooling down. But changes in your sweat patterns, like excessive sweating or night sweats, could be an indicator of a health issue.
Night sweats are often linked to hormonal changes, whether normal fluctuations throughout your cycle, using hormonal birth control, or a thyroid condition. They may also be tied to low blood sugar, which leads to the production of hormones that raise your body temperature. Generally, the causes of night sweats and excessive sweating are often easy to resolve with the help of a doctor.
Constipation is most commonly caused by a lack of dietary fiber (a superfood!), fluids, or both. If that’s the case, a health coach, like those at Parsley Health, can help you figure out how to incorporate more into your diet.
But if you’ve optimized your nutrition and fluid intake and suspect constipation is caused by a larger issue, it’s worth talking to a physician. Conditions like pelvic-floor dysfunction, inflammatory GI diseases, and even thyroid problems can have constipation as a major symptom. But usually, a few holistic changes can make significant improvements to keep things moving. Adequate hydration, regular physical activity, and proper nutrition (here’s a list of the best foods to relieve constipation) can go a long way to help your digestive tract function efficiently.
Also, be aware that the opposite of constipation may be worth mentioning to your doctor. If you need to have a bowel movement after every single meal; feel like you may have an accident if you don’t make it to the bathroom in time; have significant cramping or pain; or if you frequently experience diarrhea, definitely check in with your healthcare provider.
Some fatigue in the evening is normal—a certain amount of natural fatigue is needed to regulate our sleep and wake cycle. But if your fatigue feels debilitating—and you’ve ruled out extenuating circumstances, such as having a new sleepless baby—it may be an internal indication of chronic exhaustion and cause for concern. Feeling tired all the time can signal a variety of imbalances in the body, from hormone disruption to thyroid issues to nutrition deficiencies, or even sleep apnea.
In many cases, it goes back to the gut. Research has shown that chronic fatigue syndrome is linked to gut health, as they have identified biological markers of the disease in gut bacteria and inflammatory microbial agents in the blood. In other words, if you are looking for an energy boost, it’s a wise idea to eat more anti-inflammatory foods and talk to your clinician about gut health.
But remember, even if the root cause is *just* lack of sleep or poor quality sleep, it deserves attention. Regular disruptions in the sleep-wake cycle can impact your quality of life, but a few tools and lifestyle changes can make improvements. (Even adding these herbs into your diet can boost your energy naturally.)
One sign you may not be getting enough fluids? If it’s dark yellow, you feel dizzy when you stand up from sitting, your lips look cracked and dry, or you are prone to headaches. Typically, your pee should be light yellow or clear (unless you’re taking B vitamins, which can lead to darker or bright yellow urine.) When you are well hydrated, the excess fluid flushes out of the kidneys, making urine more clear. When you are dehydrated, the kidneys will concentrate the urine, trying to hold onto the water, which makes it darker.
Also, dry skin and/or skin elasticity might be caused by poor hydration. Dizziness and/or low blood pressure are indicators also, as well as constipation. If these symptoms aren’t remedied by upping your water intake, and dehydration is chronic, your kidneys may be taking the brunt, and sodium levels in the blood can increase. Our advice? Carry a water bottle with you as you go, and drink up. If you’re thirsty all the time and increasing your water intake doesn’t help, make sure to check in with your doctor.
Small amounts of hair loss are definitely normal, especially in women experiencing hormonal or biochemical changes. But significant hair loss (clumps falling out or changes in your hairline) can be cause for alarm, and it may be time to talk to your doctor about potential underlying causes.
Know that a pattern of hair loss may reveal potential sources, such as extreme periods of stress or prolonged poor nutrition. Possible auto-immune disorders may also be the culprit, which is an indicator of elevated inflammation in the body. The good news? Many of these underlying causes can be course-corrected with holistic changes in diet and lifestyle.
Sound like you? Well, now what?
Realizing you’ve been ignoring a sign from your body can feel displacing, but recognizing that something is outside of normal for you is a small victory in becoming more in tune with your body. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Catching an issue early can often be the difference between a few small lifestyle changes or having to manage a chronic disease. Clinicians and health coaches at Parsley Health investigate symptoms to get to the root cause and help you feel empowered in your health journey.