With all the talk of over-stretched NHS resources and the convenience of ‘Doctor Google’, we might put off a trip to the GP unless we’re feeling particularly under the weather.
We shouldn’t – what might seem an insignificant rash, a slight swelling or dry skin could actually be a symptom of something much more serious, and doctors are, after all, trained to spot such conditions.
Here are 13 seemingly small symptoms that could point to serious health concerns.
‘Fruity’ smelling breath
“An acetone smell on breath can be a sign of diabetes,” says Dr Laurence Gerlis of Same Day Doctor (www.samedaydoctor.co.uk). This is because it’s an indication of ketosis. “We produce ketones from breaking down fat when we can’t use sugar due to lack of insulin.”
Dry skin and hair
This can sometimes be an indication of underactive thyroid. “Slow metabolism from an underactive thyroid can cause these symptoms,” notes Gerlis.
Rash across both cheeks
Known as a ‘butterfly’ rash, this can be a telltale sign of the autoimmune condition lupus.
Extra rings in the pupils
“This could indicate Wilson’s disease with copper deposits,” says Gerlis. “An error in metabolism means excess copper in the blood causes circular rings in the eyes.”
As well as skin, when the whites of the eye appear a little yellow, this can be a sign of jaundice. “A build up of bile in the blood gets deposited into the whites of the eyes,” Gerlis explains.
Nails can reveal a number of things about our health, and as Gerlis explains, pitted nails may sometimes be a sign of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Skin disorders can often affect nail growth, he adds.
Sometimes referred to as ‘clubbing’, Gerlis points out that when the tips of the fingers are swollen it can be a symptom of lung disease. “Lung disease or lung cancer causes overgrowth of blood vessels in tips of fingers,” he explains.
Arriving late with a lost of sense of time
Of course, this is not always a medical ‘symptom’, but a lost sense of time can sometimes be of significance, and Gerlis says it may even mean there’s a need to consider a brain tumour. “Tumours can cause loss of very specific brain functions,” he notes.
If skin is cold and clammy and a person’s experiencing cold sweats, this can be a warning sign of sepsis, or a diabetic hypoglycaemic attack. “Patients produce adrenaline to keep blood sugar up, which causes a sensation of cold sweat,” explains Gerlis.
Very itchy skin
A distressing itch with no obvious skin cause can be a sign of primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), also known as primary biliary cirrhosis, an autoimmune disease of the liver. “It’s a slow progressive disease that causes damage to the liver which is irreversible,” explains Dr Ross Perry, GP and dermatologist and founder of Cosmedics Clinics (www.cosmedics.co.uk). “Symptoms often include excessive sleepiness and itching with more severe cases developing jaundice.”
Puffy eyelids, hands and feet
Dr Perry notes that this can be an indication of an overactive thyroid. Thinning of the hair and distorted or overgrown nails can also be signs.
Known as dermatitis herpetiformis, Perry says this can be an indication of gluten intolerance.
Dry cracked lips
Although fatigue and paleness are most commonly associated with anaemia or lack of iron, Perry points out that dry, cracked lips – “especially at the corners of the mouth” – can also be a sign.
Have you ever been surprised by something your GP has spotted? Tell us in the comments section below.