Health and Beauty: Give your body a spring MOT

30 March 2010

SPRING is in the air, but it might not be in your step. If your New Year resolutions have long since bitten the dust, don’t despair.

This time of year is all about renewal, which is why so many of us use it as a chance to spring-clean our homes. But your annual cleansing ritual doesn’t need to end with your house – this is also the perfect opportunity to take stock of your health, so you can make changes now to prevent problems further down the line.

“Now is a great time of year to review your health and curb any unhealthy habits, including smoking or weight issues,” says Dr Bill Mathewson, deputy chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (Scotland). “If you have any concerns or anxieties about your health or have any symptoms that have been ongoing for a few weeks, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your GP to discuss them.”

With the clocks going forward today, it’s also time to say goodbye to dark nights and winter blues and embrace the extra daylight hours with a fresh outlook and strong, healthy body. And by taking a few simple tests, you can give yourself a body MOT in the comfort of your own home.

All over check

Stand naked in front of a large mirror, or get your partner to take a look at your skin for you. You are looking for moles or other blemishes that seem to be changing, getting bigger, turning darker, going scaly, itching, weeping, crusting over; scabbing without healing or developing a raised, rolled edge. While, in many cases, the lesions will turn out to be harmless, skin cancer is on the increase. If diagnosed early, it is often curable.

Feet and toes
Fungal nail and skin infections can often be found on your feet. Look for white/yellow discoloration of nails, vertical splits in nails and rashes on the soles of your feet and between your fourth and fifth toes. Treat with antifungal agents to prevent it spreading.

Lower Eyelids
If the skin inside your lower lids looks pale rather than bright pink, you could be anemic or have an iron deficiency. Iron is vital for the healthy production of red blood cells. An average man needs 8.7mg a day, while women need 14.8mg. Good sources of iron include red meat, leafy green vegetables, wholegrain cereals and lentils.

With mouth cancer now accounting for five per cent of all tumors, smokers and those over the age of 40 need to be extra-vigilant. Look out for persistent white patches, red, velvety lesions or ulcers that last longer than a couple of weeks.

Lesions on the roof of the mouth or on top of the tongue can be more noticeable, but those on the floor of the mouth, under the tongue or in the crevices at the back of the throat can be trickier to spot in the early stages. Use a dental mirror to view the floor of your mouth, the sides and underneath of your tongue and around your gums.

Your doctor will often begin a physical examination by looking at your nails, which is why they are a good place to start when doing an instant health check. Here are some of the things you should be looking out for.

Loss of usual pink color this can be a result of low levels of hemoglobin in the blood, otherwise known as anemia. It is caused by excessive bleeding or a lack of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid.

Small, shallow pits numerous pits are linked to psoriasis, alopecia or atopic eczema.

Thin, spoon-shaped nails this is likely to be due to lack of iron, but is sometimes hereditary.

White marks these are most likely due to a trauma, but have also been linked to low levels of albumin, which compresses blood flow under the nails. White nails that feel rough can also indicate a fungal infection.

Swelling of the fingertips beneath the nail beds this indicates illnesses affecting the heart or lungs.

Long, thin, splinter-like brown streaks this is due to bleeding from tiny blood vessels under the nails. In most cases it is nothing to worry about, but in rare cases it is due to tiny blood clots coming from an infection of the heart, so it is worth having them checked out.

When you pinch the skin on the back of your hand, does it spring back into place, or drop back slowly? The latter suggests dehydration or loss of elasticity, which may have been caused by over-exposure to the sun. Wear sun block, up your water intake and use moisturizer regularly.

Niggling Symptoms
Don’t ignore recurrent aches, pains, coughs, discharges, changes in bowel habit, lumps or odd sensations in the hope they will go away. Get them checked out as soon as possible.

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