Subtle Body Clues That Can Signal Serious Health Problems

October 03, 2017

When is a seemingly cosmetic issue the sign of a more serious condition? Scott Renshaw, MD, family medicine physician at Indiana University Health, decodes some common issues.

Broken blood vessels in your eyes
These bright red patches on the whites of your eyes are usually painless and harmless. Simply sneezing or coughing can cause them, but in some cases broken blood vessels may be a sign of hypertension. As blood pressure rises, the tiny vessels may twist and break.

A sore mouth or tender tongue
You may be low in vitamin B12. Strict vegetarians and vegans are at an increased risk of deficiency since naturally occurring B12 is found mainly in animal products.

Stubborn pimples
Adult acne isn’t uncommon, but for some women it may indicate polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormone disorder that can lead to infertility, diabetes, and heart disease. Other symptoms include irregular periods, excess facial and body hair, and weight gain.

Hair loss
Excessive shedding is often due to stress, but it may be a sign of iron deficiency. Hair loss also occurs in people with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. Other symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, and muscle weakness.

Facial flushing
Constantly red in the face? You may have rosacea, a chronic skin condition that causes flushing, burning, and small bumps that resemble acne. If the redness is limited to a butterfly-shaped rash on your cheeks and the bridge of your nose, that may be a sign of lupus, an autoimmune disorder that can damage your blood vessels, joints, and organs.

A red bump on your limbs
It may just be an ingrown hair, but if the lump feels hot and tender, it could be cellulitis, which occurs when bacteria (often staph) gains entry through a wound. The infection can spread, so it’s important to see your doctor ASAP.

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A skin condition where too much oil can clog hair follicles, causing pus to accumulate that forms pimples or boils.


A chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disorder that affects many parts of your body including the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs and brain.