9 Little Body Changes That Could Signal a Much Bigger Health Problem

It's hard to keep track of every single change that happens to your body, but here are nine of the most important ones to pay attention to, because they could be saying a lot about your health.

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A pimple that doesn't go away

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According to Bradley Bloom, MD, dermatologist at Skin Laser and Surgery Specialists, watch out for the pimple that won't heal. "Many patients come into the office complaining of a pimple that just won't heal or begins to bleed," says Dr. Bloom. "And it ends up being a basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common form of skin cancer." As an expert in Mohs micrographic surgery, Dr. Bloom sees a lot of these in his practice and says that Moh's surgery is an easy solution with the lowest recurrence rate. Here's how to do a mole check for skin cancer.

A recurring scaly patch

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During the winter months, it's not unusual to experience dry and scaly skin. But Dr. Bloom advises to be on the lookout for scaly patches that won't go away or keep coming back. Dr. Bloom cautions that while sometimes this could be eczema, it can also be actinic keratoses. "These are pre-cancerous lesions caused by damage from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays and are often first noticed as rough patches of skin on sun-exposed areas, such as the face, bald scalp, lips, and the back of the hands," says Dr. Bloom. He urges patients to use an SPF lotion at all times to avoid any type of sun damage and to treat these lesions before they develop into something more serious. Here are sneaky places you can get skin cancer (that aren't on your skin).

A red line on your nail

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Most people don't realize your nails can reveal a lot about your health. One thing to check for is a red line down one or multiple nails. According to Thomas Knackstedt, MD, dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, a red line is usually benign and can just mean the nail is thinning. But in some cases, it may mean more. "When red lines affect multiple fingers, they may be caused by inflammation of the root of the nail by a variety of conditions such as psoriasis or lichen planus," adds Dr. Knackstedt. "When only a single nail is affected, the red line may be caused by a number of different benign growths in the nail including a lipoma (fatty tumor), fibroma, or wart." Dr. Knackstedt advises that if there is any change in the line, such as widening, have it evaluated by a doctor.

A change in a freckle or beauty mark

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Beauty marks and freckles do change with age, but Dr. Knackstedt offers this tip for checking to see if these changes are something more dangerous. "The ABCDEs (Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color [multiple – brown, black, green, blue, red], Diameter [greater than ¼ in.] and Evolution [change]) help guide patients and doctors in the diagnosis of more worrisome skin lesions like melanoma skin cancer."

Chapped lips

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Chapped lips are almost a given once the weather turns cold. But it could also be a sign of actinic cheilitis, a pre-cancerous skin condition where lips look dry and cracked. "When such sun damage is identified early, lip changes can be reversed with careful use of sun screen and sun protection," says Dr. Knackstedt, "Importantly, untreated actinic cheilitis may progress to squamous cell carcinoma of the lip. Individuals with significant sun exposure and any non-healing or bleeding lesions on the lips warrant examination by a physician." Check out some at-home lip treatments for chapped lips.

Thinning eyebrows

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As people age, they experience natural hair loss, but Dr. Bloom says to keep an eye out for thinning eyebrows. "This can be a sign of hypothyroidism, and it is worth a visit to the doctor to have lab tests done," he says. "If the hair loss is resulting from a thyroid condition, treating that underlying condition is required." Treatments for a thyroid condition range from drugs and surgery to diet changes and herbal supplements.

Thickening and darkening of the skin in body creases

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Acanthosis nigricans is a disorder where the area in the folds of the skin under the armpits, groin, or neck start to darken. Dr. Bloom warns that this subtle change may be a sign of insulin resistance, and you should get checked out by a doctor ASAP. Children experiencing this are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Cold sores

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According to Dr. Knackstedt, over 60 percent of the U.S. population carries the herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores. "Patients having large ulcer or lesions that don't heal within several days should seek evaluation by their doctor to rule out less common infections or autoimmune conditions," says Dr. Knackstedt.

White spots on nails

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Knackstedt says one of the most common complaints he encounters is white spots on the nails. Usually, the causes of these are nothing to worry about, such as trauma to the cuticle. But in some cases, it may need further inspection. "Some patients may have more broad and diffuse changes of the nail that are more appropriately described as paleness," says Dr. Knackstedt. "In such instances, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, or protein and vitamin deficiencies should be considered and evaluated by a physician." Learn more about keeping nails healthy and strong.

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