Hidden symptoms that could signal major health problems

Aug 11, 2015 4:41 PM by CBS News

Minor ailments you might be tempted to ignore could be early signs of a serious illness. That's the message of a recent Reader's Digest article, "Silent Signs that Your Body is in Big Trouble," which aims to help people decode their own bodies' subtle signals.

Even though routine doctor visits are key to maintaining good health, some symptoms may not always be picked up by physicians, Reader's Digest editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello explained on "CBS This Morning." "They might not come up in a physical, but if you tag them early, you could really take care of some big problems," she said.

Handwriting clues

One such hidden symptom is a change in handwriting, which may be an early indicator of Parkinson's disease.

"Parkinson's is caused by damage or loss of neurons in the brain that make dopamine, and dopamine is really important in controlling movement in our body," CBS News medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips explained.

While one of the first signs of Parkinson's is the typical tremor, or shaking, most commonly associated with the disease, symptoms can emerge elsewhere, particularly in the hands.

"The fingers and the hands become tense, so as you're writing out a sentence, your letters might start out larger and get smaller and smaller toward the end of the sentence as the fingers clench up," Phillips said.

Angry outbursts

Random bursts of anger could be another sign something is awry, potentially signaling depression.

"Depression is a complicated illness and it has a huge constellation of symptoms and most of them actually don't have to do with being sad or despondent like we think of depression usually," Phillips said. "Actually, the majority of people suffer from anger, irritability and bouts of rage as their main symptoms of depression."

Depression that manifests this way, she said, may be a sign that it is more severe and could last longer.

Tooth damage

Another sign of trouble could be damage to the teeth, especially those located in the back of the mouth. This could signal gastrointestinal issues, particularly acid reflux.

"Many people who have acid reflux, also called heartburn, experience the typical symptoms of burning in the chest, but a lot of people don't," Phillips said. "Acid reflux happens when acid from your stomach moves up into your esophagus and then the back of the mouth. So as you're lying down flat in bed at night, it starts to erode the back teeth, the molars, and so you see this sudden degradation of the teeth."

In fact, acid reflux is often picked up by dentists, not physicians, because they can actually see the destruction, Phillips said.

Other warning signs

When it comes to the heart, snoring, inflamed gums and impotence in men are all associated with a greater risk of heart disease.

And while everyone is susceptible to the occasional senior moment, having trouble managing finances is often a red flag that could be an early signal Alzheimer's disease.

Finally, while forgetting people's names could be a sign of dementia, it could also indicate hypothyroidism, or low levels of thyroid hormone.

Hypothyroidism is often caused by an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, most common in women, Phillips explained. "It results in brain fog, forgetfulness or just feeling like you're in the static of a TV set."

Though she said hypothyroidism is one of the most common and commonly overlooked causes of sudden memory loss, the condition can be picked up early and easily, and can be treated. "It's a really quick and really simple blood test," she said.


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