Most of the time, a twitchy eyelid or trick knee, is just that—no biggie. But there are instances when a seemingly insignificant health quirk may be your body’s way of saying, Hey there, let’s go to the doc. “Most people know the major symptoms of something like a stroke or heart attack, but sometimes you get weird presentations of serious problems,” says Jake Deutsch, M.D., founder and clinical Director of CURE Urgent Care in New York and an Attending Physician in the ER at Hackensack University Medical Center. Here are eight to watch for.
If after you get over a nasty cold and your cough lingers for weeks, you may have developed what’s called post-bronchitis syndrome. “It’s like asthma,” says Mitchell Gaynor, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and author of The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Diet and Lifestyle. “People think unless you’re wheezing and short of breath it’s not asthma, but that’s not true.” What’s happening: Your airways temporarily got smaller. “The cough responds to an inhaler, so you treat it like asthma until it resolves in a few months,” he says.
Are you always reaching for a hoodie? Frequently getting the chills when no one else is? Have your thyroid function tested; it could be a sign of an underactive thyroid, Gaynor says. Other symptoms to look out for: a puffy face, fatigue, hair loss (on your body, too) and weight gain.
If you’re feeling a little out of it despite getting a good night’s sleep and a strong cup of coffee, think about what you’ve been eating. Loading up on bread and pasta? Also have white spots on your tongue? Go see a gastroenterologist as you could have celiac disease, Gaynor says. “There’s a huge gut-brain connection, and if gluten is causing inflammation in your gut, you’re malabsorbing nutrients and you’ve disturbed your gut’s microbiome,” he says. “You may not have any stomach upset except that you feel bloated sometimes.”
It may be metallic—or just a different, unpleasant taste. Regardless, if it’s persistent and you haven’t recently had a cold (which can affect taste buds), get checked out and bring all the vitamins and over-the-counter meds you regularly take to the doctor with you. “Overdosing on vitamins can cause it,” Deutsch says. Think multis as well as iron and calcium supplements and even zinc lozenges. The taste usually goes away when the vitamins flush out of your system, but if you’re taking daily vitamins, you keep replenishing the (too-high) levels. Not popping pills? It’s even more important to see your doc: “The taste could mean a more complicated problem with your sinuses or a tumor compressing nerves that help with your senses of smell and taste,” Deutsch says.
Seeing red when you floss or brush is a signal of gingivitis or periodontal disease. That’s not so weird, but what is: If you ignore it, you increase your risk for various chronic diseases. “Inflammation in the gums releases inflammatory mediators into the blood that can damage the lining of blood vessels, which allows plaque to build up,” Gaynor says. Aside from heart problems, the inflammation can also increase your risk for type-2 diabetes.
Have you recently become a vegan? Crunching away on cubes can signal an iron deficiency. Experts aren’t exactly sure what’s behind the link, but a new study in the journal Medical Hypothesis suggests that what people are really after is the stimulating effects from the crunch, crackle and cold. If you’re deficient in iron, there may be less oxygen in the blood (iron is needed to transport O2) so you’re usually fatigued, Deutsch says. “People may crave the reaction they get from chewing ice—it wakes them up.”
Intermittent shooting pains in the side of your jaw, at the hinge, is often diagnosed as TMJ, or temporal mandibular joint disorder, caused by damaged cartilage or misalignment. But it can be misdiagnosed, and instead indicate Lyme disease. “Lyme disease affects certain nerves that causes the pain in the jaw,” Gaynor says. “In the old days before we knew about the connection, we treated it as TMJ.” About 30,000 cases of Lyme are reported to the CDC each year, but new data estimates the number may actually be closer to 10 times that. “Lyme disease has a number of weird presenting symptoms—it could be anything from irregular heart rhythms and fatigue to manic depression,” Gaynor says.
Aside from driving you insane, hiccups that last for a day or two or longer could be triggered by lung or esophageal cancer, says Gaynor. “The central nervous system controls hiccups and these types of cancers emit antibodies that affect the part that trigger hiccups,” he says. Persistent hiccups might also indicate a stroke, Deutsch says.