1. Lift up your arms
Look for: Dark, thick, velvety patches of skin in your armpits
Why: This could be a sign of diabetes or insulin resistance, a condition leading to diabetes,’ says consultant dermatologist Dr Agustin Martin-Clavijo of BMI The Priory Hospital, Birmingham. ‘It happens when there’s too much sugar in the blood.’ Diabetes is on the increase in the UK – 2.9 million people have been diagnosed, while its estimated around 850,000 are unaware they have it. Other symptoms include feeling tired, thirsty and needing to go to the toilet frequently, especially at night.
Next step: Your GP should test your blood sugar. ‘Losing excess weight and exercising can help control type 2 diabetes, or even prevent it. You may also be given medication,’ adds Dr Martin-Clavijo.
2. Check your nails
Look for: Shape and condition
Why: ‘Dry, flaky, nails are often due to fungal infection but if they are spoon-shaped, this could be a sign of iron-deficiency anaemia,’ says Dr Martin-Clavijo. One symptom you should never ignore is a dark line under you nail, which could be melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
Next step: Consult your GP before taking iron supplements. ‘Too much iron can damage your liver. Your GP should do a blood test for anaemia and treat the cause, while a prescription cream of tablets should see off a fungal infection,’ says Dr Martin-Clavijo. ‘Your GP will refer you to a dermatologist if they suspect melanoma.’
3. Gaze into your eyes
Look for: Pale rings that appear to be around the iris, the coloured part of your eye, or yellow, fatty looking markings on your eyelid
Why: ‘Both of these can be signs of high cholesterol,’ says consultant ophthalmologist Mr Larry Benjamin.
Next step: Get a cholesterol test from your GP or pharmacist. If you have high cholesterol, cut back on foods high in saturated fat like full-fat dairy products, biscuits and processed foods, and eat more fruit and veg along with cholesterol-lowering foods, such as Flora Pro.activ. ‘If your cholesterol is still high, you may need to be prescribed statins,’ adds Mr Benjamin.
4. Take your pulse
Look for: A regular rhythm. Hold your palm out with your hand facing upwards and, with the other hand, place your index and middle fingers on your wrist at the base of your thumb until you find your pulse, then count for one minute
Why: If your pulse if often irregular, it could indicate a heart condition such as atrial fibrillation, which can raise risk of a stroke. Ideally, it should be regular and between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Next step: If your pulse if often irregular and over 160bpm, see your GP.
5. Run your fingers through your hair
Look for: Dry, brittle or thinning hair
Why: This could indicate thyroid problems, which affect a fifth of women by age 60. Dr Chidi Ngwaba, GP and lifestyle doctor, says, ‘If you also have brittle nails, often feel tired, cold or have recently gained weight, you may have an underactive thyroid. Patchy hair loss, tiredness, difficulty sleeping and changes in weight could be signs of an overactive thyroid.’
Next step: Your GP should do a blood test to measure your thyroid hormones and refer you to a hormone specialist if necessary.