They are a part of the aging process, but last spring, researchers at Yale University found that women who have deeper, more numerous wrinkles also had lower bone density — regardless of their age.
Skin and bones share building blocks like collagen, deficiencies in the skin could reflect deficiencies elsewhere in the body too. Researchers suggest these findings will offer a way to catch “the silent thief”.
Believe it or not, your dentist may one day be able to screen for osteoporosis too. Several studies have found a link between the disease and loose teeth or tooth loss. The reason: osteoporosis can affect any bone in the body including the jawbone that supports our teeth. A dental x-ray could provide important clues about bone density .
For more information, see the NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center and read one of the study abstracts.
Poor dental health
A chronic inflammatory condition known as periodontal disease or gum disease has been linked to other chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Experts used to think it was oral bacteria that was the problem but it’s now thought that chronic inflammation may be a common disease process that affects oral health as well as other parts of the body.
Treating periodontal disease is important as it can attack the connective tissue and bone that support the teeth — and we’re more vulnerable to it as we age.
For more information, see the American Academy of Periodontology (try its online risk assessment) and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Health.
“Spots” on the face
Skin problems can be an embarrassment at any age, but they’re worth discussing with a doctor as acne could be a sign of a condition affecting hormone cycles, like polycystic ovary syndrome. While a “butterfly rash” that spreads across the nose and cheeks is a common symptom of lupus, a systemic autoimmune disorder that affects mostly women. (See the Mystery of Lupus for a primer on this condition.)
Swollen feet and ankles
Known in the medical community as peripheral edema, this painless swelling of the feet, ankles and lower legs is caused by an abnormal build up of fluid in the body. Thanks to gravity, this fluid often ends up in our extremities. The swelling can be a warning sign of heart, liver or kidney disease, a blood clot in the leg, a circulatory issue or an infection.
However, there are many not-so-serious causes too — like pregnancy, sitting or standing for long periods of time or the side effects from certain medications. However, if you experience other symptoms like chest pain or difficulty breathing you’ll want to head to the emergency room instead.
Half white, half brown nails could signal kidney failure, and white nails could warn of liver, heart or kidney failure as well as diabetes or a thyroid condition. Brown streaks can be a sign of serious melanoma.
A fungal infection could be responsible for thick, yellow nails, and yes, it can spread to your fingernails too. Today, laser treatments can cure the infection without the side effects of traditional treatments. (For more information, see What your feet reveal about your health.) The chemicals in nail polish can discolour nails too. Doctors recommend giving your nails a breather on a regular basis.
- Certain infections in the body (like in the heart valve) can cause red streaks known as splinter hemorrhages.
- Brittle nails can be common as we age or sign of a thyroid condition, nail psoriasis or reactive arthritis.
- Indented, spoon-shaped nails could warn of lupus or anemia.
- Pitted or dented nails can warn of psoriasis.
- While white spots and streaks on the nail are generally normal, white lines extending all the way across the nail can warn of a lack of protein in the blood — often due to liver disease or malnutrition.
We constantly lose hairs due to their normal growth cycle – as many as 50 to 100 per day. Hair that comes out in clumps or loss that leaves bald patches is usually reversible when the underlying problem is addressed – like a thyroid condition or an autoimmune disorder which is attacking the hair follicles. Infections, skin conditions, malnutrition, hormone changes and extreme stress can also cause temporary hair loss. (Learn more about possible causes of hair loss on WebMD.)
Excess body hair
Women typically don’t grow dark, coarse hairs on their chest, abdomen, lip, chin or back. When they do – a condition known as hirsutism is often to blame where their bodies produce larger than normal amounts of male hormones.
One common cause is polycystic ovary syndrome – a condition where many small cysts develop in the ovaries that can affect hormone cycles. Conditions affecting the ovaries and adrenal glands like Cushing’s syndrome or tumours can also cause hirsutism. Certain medications can also cause unusual hair growth too, like steroids or some immunosuppressants. (The University of Maryland Medical Center has a good overview of hirsutism.)
Once called “beauty marks”, moles come in many shapes, sizes and colours and while most are harmless, unusual moles could be a sign of skin cancer. Remember your ABCDE’s to spot troubling ones: asymmetry, irregular borders, uneven colour, large diameter and evolving.
Other suspicious lumps and bumps could be the sign of a less serious form of non-melanoma skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma. Luckily, BCC doesn’t spread and can usually be treated by a dermatologist. (See Skin cancer: recognizing the trouble spots for more details.)
Additional sources: The British Liver Trust, The Canadian Liver Foundation, Health.com, University of Maryland Medical Center
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