Warning Signs: What Your Body Is Telling You

6 minute read

By Selena Singh

Our body gives us warning signs well before an issue becomes critical. Taking swift action can prevent serious escalations. Fortunately, if you start a search online, you can interpret warning signs and know what your body is trying to tell you.

Warning signs may appear anywhere on your body, from your head to your toes. Here are some common warning signs and what they may mean. Always visit your physician to confirm that your health is in check if you notice that something is off.

1. Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes, the site of lymphocyte formation, are found throughout the body. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell, including the Natural Killer cells, T-cells, B-cells, which mainly function to protect the body from foreign particles, such as viruses or bacteria. Essentially, lymphocytes are one of the most important aspects of our immune system. So, it makes sense that when your lymph nodes are swollen, it’s due to the rapid formation of lymphocytes as a response to an infection.

Depending on the cause of swelling, other symptoms may occur, as well. For example, if your lymph nodes are swollen due to a respiratory infection, you may experience runny nose or a sore throat. On the other hand, if you have an immune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis, joint pains will accompany the lymph node swelling. Common lymph node sites are in your neck, armpits, lower part of the back of your head and under the jaw.

Once the infection has cleared, lymph nodes typically return to their normal size. It’s important to seek professional help when swelling persists for over 2 weeks or the nodes continue to get larger.

2. Fever

A fever is often defined as a temporary rise in the body’s temperature. For an adult, this may occur when the body temperature exceeds 37.2°C or 99°F.  What causes this abnormal rise in body temperature? The most common reason is some sort of an underlying infection.

Literally any type of infection, including respiratory, ear, skin, urinary tract and bone infections may trigger a fever. Even autoimmune disorders, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, and certain cancers may present with a fever.

The function of a fever in infections is actually to help, not hurt, you. The high temperatures that characterize fevers function to kill off viruses and bacteria, as the most common ones typically thrive in temperatures of 98.7°F or lower. This is because the high temperatures help T-cells, one of the most important immune system cells, to function better.

You should seek professional help if you have a fever over 40.5°C or 105°F or if the fever lasts more than 3 days.

3. Excessive tiredness

Excessive tiredness can be a warning sign for many things, besides a lack of sleep. One thing that may cause excessive tiredness is anemia, a condition in which a person doesn’t have enough red blood cells to distribute oxygen to their tissues. This in turn, will cause weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness and cold hands and feet.

Anemia may be temporary; for example, it may occur when you donate blood. It may also be a long-term, chronic condition. There are various types of anemia, including iron-deficiency anemia and sickle-cell anemia. They are all treated differently to deal with the underlying cause.

A thyroid disorder may also cause excessive tiredness. The thyroid gland produces hormones that control metabolism, so when the body produces a low amount of thyroid hormones, the body burns energy more slowly and vital functions slow down, resulting in constant tiredness. When your immune system is working overtime, such as during an infection or in an autoimmune disorder (when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues), you also experience excessive tiredness.

But, just because you’re tired it might not necessarily mean you have anemia or some other serious complication. It’s when this tiredness is accompanied by other uncommon symptoms that persist for a long period of time that you should consider getting a check-up.

4. Body aches

You likely experience body aches from time to time. When you’re very stressed out, your body releases hormones that cause your muscles to become tense and sensitive to pain. This can usually be relieved by slowly stretching, doing light exercise or getting a massage.

Body aches may also be an early warning sign of the flu. Body aches caused by the flu may occur anywhere—but most commonly in your head or your legs. A warm bath and pain medication may help to relieve the pain.

However, if you have chronic pain, this can be your body trying to tell you something worth paying attention to. If you have persistent back pain that’s also accompanied by yellowing skin, weight loss or pale stool, consider getting tested for pancreatic cancer, as these are the common warning signs of this disease.

5. Irregular bowel movements

As much as we may not want to pay attention to what’s in our toilet, it can actually give us a lot of insight into our health. One of the most important things to pay attention to is the ease at which you move your bowels. If it takes you considerable effort to do so, consider this a warning sign. Constipation can be a result of dehydration, colon cancer, stress or an underactive thyroid. If you are constipated, you should drink at least two extra glasses of water per day (avoiding caffeine, as it may contribute to dehydration) and add fruits, vegetables and fiber to your diet. If you’ve been constipated for over 2 weeks, there’s blood in your stool or severe pain, it is recommended that you contact your physician.

On the other hand, if your bowels are watery, loose and frequent you may have diarrhea. Sometimes, diarrhea may be a minor issue, but if you frequently experience diarrhea, it could be a warning sign for a serious condition, such as Crohn’s Disease. This is a chronic inflammatory disease which affects the digestive system. Basically, if something looks very wrong with your stool and persists for a considerable period of time, it’s probably a good idea to visit your doctor.

6. Headaches

Most of us have experienced at least a few headaches. What are headaches caused by and what are they trying to tell us?

First off, there are two classes of headaches: primary headaches and secondary headaches. A primary headache doesn’t indicate an underlying disease or disorder. One of the most common causes of a primary headache is stress. Another cause of a primary headache is lack of sleep.

Secondary headaches, on the other hand, are a symptom of a disorder. In fact, many disorders have headaches as a symptom. For example, dehydration, the flu and glaucoma are all causes of headaches. It’s recommended that you contact a healthcare professional if you experience a severe headache or one that doesn’t improve with painkillers. Also, if a headache is accompanied by other symptoms, such as a fever, it’s usually a warning that you have some type of infection.

7. Nail abnormalities

Your finger and toe nails may reveal a lot more than you think. Nail abnormalities are often a warning sign for nutritional deficiencies and even for some chronic conditions.

If you frequently experience splitting or cracked nails, this may be a warning sign for a thyroid condition or psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder that affects the skin. Soft or brittle nails may a warning sign of a deficiency of a protein known as keratin. This deficiency may be resolved by consuming a diet that boosts keratin production (one filled with biotin-rich vegetables and vitamin B-rich foods).

If you see ridges on your nails, this may indicate a mineral deficiency, such as an iron deficiency. This may be resolved by consuming a diet abundant in dark green leafy vegetables, poultry and beans. If you notice a dark line on your nail and don’t recall injuring your finger, see a doctor as soon as possible as this could be a warning sign for melanoma, a type of cancer that typically occurs in the skin.

Selena Singh