What Your Body is Telling You: signs and symptoms not to ignore

By Supreme Understanding and Scihonor Devotion

(An Excerpt from The Hood Health Handbook, Volume One)

“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.” – Spanish Proverb

We regularly put up with many symptoms of early disease, and men do so for far longer than women, from obvious warnings, like a terrible fever that signals infection, to more subtle clues, like losing hair on your toes, which can be an early sign of vascular disease. Now, some signs that might scare the hell out of you may actually be harmless, but many things that seem minor can warn of a serious disorder.

Still others can be unclear: Does that growing gut mean you’re just “letting yourself go,” or is it sign of ovarian cancer? Only a professional can tell. But the problem is that most of us don’t notice ANYTHING, even when the warning light is flashing and beeping at us to stop. For example, Miami rapper Trick Daddy just thought he had a bad case of “dry skin” until he got tested for Lupus (See “What Is Lupus?”). T-Boz of TLC just thought her painful headaches were another symptom of her Sickle Cell Disease – until an MRI showed that she had a brain tumor (See “Get A Second Opinion”). And Ghostface Killah thought he had the symptoms of a common STD until he found out he had diabetes (See “Diabetes”). All of these conditions are life-threatening! So why stay in the dark about what’s going on in your body? Especially if it’s trying its best to tell you what you need to know? Let’s take the top to bottom approach, and analyze your body’s “check engine lights”. We also break down a lot of the following conditions, more specifically, later.


  • Your hair may be dry and brittle because it’s over-permed, you’re applying to much heat, or just straight-up over-processed.
  • Dry hair may also mean an under-active thyroid or nutritional deficiency.
  • Thinning hair and baldness doesn’t affect just the fellas. Female pattern baldness often runs in families, and can also be associated with aging, menopause, an over-active thyroid or an early warning sign of diabetes. Thinning hair can also be from over-processing.
  • Metabolic and circulatory disorders can cause a loss of body hair.


  • Ladies, make sure that your nail shop is up to code and uses sterile equipment. Otherwise, you may be paying top-dollar for a fungal infection with your mani/pedi.
  • Besides being over-processed, thyroid disease can also cause your nails to become dry and brittle.
  • Splinter hemorrhages are dark, horizontal (side to side) streaks under your fingernails or toenails. This can be a sign of trichinosis. Meaning, you’re infested with parasites because you’ve been eating undercooked pork or wild game. However, splinter hemorrhages are also warning signs for psoriasis, peptic ulcers, kidney disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, blood-clotting diseases, or endocarditis (an inflammation of the heart tissue).
  • Beau’s Lines are horizontal (side to side) and sometimes appear when your body experiences a period of significant stress or illness. Your body is busy, struggling to handle other priorities, so your nails take a little break, and then start growing again.
  • If the skin underneath the nail (the nail bed) is white, this may mean that you’re anemic. Nails that are white near the cuticle, and red or brown near the tip, can signal of kidney disease. Irregularly shaped brown or blue spots in the nail bed can be melanomas.
  • Fingertips that are blue or clubbed are a sign of chronic lung disease.


  • Rashes, or “break-outs”, can be caused by allergies to various foods or detergents.
  • That innocent spot on your skin, that you thought was just a mole or a scar, may turn out to be a sign of cancer. You can tell by using the ABCDE self-evaluation method: It may be malignant (cancer-causing) if it has an Asymmetrical shape; a jagged or irregular Border; a suspicious Color; a Diameter larger than a pencil eraser; and is Elevated and uneven.
  • Basal and squamous cell carcinomas tend to be red to pink, are crusty, and bleed easily.
  • If you have more than 50 moles on your body, you’re at increased risk for melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.
  • Lesions, or ulcers, on the skin that will not heal, are associated with diabetes. Diabetics have poor circulation, and as a result, heal very slowly when they suffer a skin injury. Large patches of dark skin on the neck and underarms are also indicators for diabetes.

Persistent Headaches

  • Headache that last for more than two to three days are a cause for concern. If accompanied by vomiting or vision changes, it could mean something is wrong in the tissues surrounding the brain like a clot or a tumor.
  • Headaches are also one of the first signs of dehydration especially if you’re suffering from a hangover. So, drink lots of water or a fluid with electrolytes in it, like Gatorade or Pedialyte.


  • Seeing “floaters” (those spots or flecks that float across your field of vision) is pretty common. But, a sudden increase in floaters may mean that you have a retinal tear or even a retinal detachment, especially if flashing lights accompany the floaters. This requires immediate medical attention.
  • Your eyes may feel dry all the time because of low humidity where you live. This can also be caused by drug side effects. If your eyes are dry all the time (chronically) this may also be a warning sign that you have an autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism, or lupus.
  • If your eyebrows no longer extend over the corners of the eyes, this may be an indication that you have an under-active thyroid.
  • Dark circles around the eyes can mean that you have allergies, anemia, that your liveris overworked, or that you’re just plain tired.
  • Small yellow bumps on the eyelid may be fat deposits that signal high cholesterol. High cholesterol raises your risk for heart disease.
  • Little bumps that look like cobblestones, on the inside of your lower eyelid, mean that you’re probably allergic to something.
  • The eyes motor (movement) responses can be used to diagnose many medical conditions, such as diabetes and schizophrenia.


  • It’s normal to hear your heart beating, especially when you’re lying down. But, if you can only hear your heart beat in one ear, this may be a warning sign for a heart murmur, high blood pressure, or other vascular disorders.
  • If normal noises seem louder than usual, you may be drinking too many diet sodas that contain aspartame. Super-sensitivity to sound may also be caused by a magnesium deficiency, or an autoimmune disease.
  • A diagonal crease in the earlobe may signal a greater risk for heart attack, but this isn’t true for NativeAmericans and some other ethnic groups.


  • Your sense of smell can be affected by any number of things. Cigarette smokers can’t smell, or taste, as well as non-smokers. As you get older, your sense of smell also tends to fall off a little. Injuries to your nose, nasal polyps, or a deviated septum may also impact smell. Interestingly, zinc deficiencies, hypothyroidism (an under-active thyroid), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease may also impact your sense of smell.
  • An inflamed, red, and bulbous (round) nose is often a sign you’ve been hitting the alcohol, long and hard. This type of nose may also be caused by rosacea, which triggers, or worsens, this skin condition.
  • Breathing thru the mouth may mean allergies, congestion, or you may be under serious stress. We’re supposed to breathe through our noses because this stimulates our vagus nerve, slowing down our heart rate, relaxing our blood vessels, and reducing stress.


  • Suffer from “Yuck Mouth”? If you’ve got a terrible taste in your mouth, that won’t wash away with mouthwash, this may be a side effect of a medication or vitamin supplement you’re taking. But, this may also be a sign of gum disease and cavities. Viral infections, gastrointestinal (stomach) disorders, Bell’s palsy (facial paralysis), and “Burning Mouth Syndrome” (a rare condition primarily affecting menopausal women) may also cause Yuck Mouth.
  • Although gingivitis can cause your gums to become inflamed and bleed, diabetes and leukemia can also play a role.
  • If your lips are cracked lips, you may have a vitamin deficiency.
  • Missing teeth, or mad gaps in your grill, can be a sign of poor nutrition, advanced gum disease, or long-term drug use. Chronic Bulimia leaves tell-tale acid marks on the inside of the teeth.
  • Say, “Aaaah…” A healthy tongue is covered in tiny bumps (papillae). If your tongue looks, or feels, very smooth and glassy, you may have a nutrient deficiency. It’s time to take some folic acid, vitamin B12, or iron. A smooth, red tongue may indicate pernicious anemia, or possibly mal-absorption syndrome (your body can’t absorb the necessary nutrients).
  • You may also be breathingthrough your mouth because you’re too fat, and breathing through your nose isn’t allowing you to move enough oxygen, since you’ve got all that weight on your chest.


  • Now’s your opportunity to cop a feel. Seriously! Lumps, beneath the arm, and in the breast, as well as dimples, swelling and discharge may signify breast cancer, and not just in females! Fellas, you can develop breast cancer too, with many of the same symptoms. Always seek medical attention if you find a lump.
  • A condition which causes men to develop enlarged breasts is gynecomastia. This may be caused by an imbalance of estrogen (female hormones), and testosterone (male hormones). With all the hormones that dairy cows are fed to increase their milk supply, you may be drinking female hormones, without realizing it. Gynecomastia also occurs during puberty, or with aging, and can also be a sign of kidney disease, or pituitary tumors.

Stomach and Digestion

  • A high body-mass index (BMI), or waistline measurement, is a red flag to clinicians. But, sudden, unexplained weight loss can be even worse, suggesting serious depression, a gastrointestinal illness, a mal-absorption syndrome, or even diabetes.
  • If your stomach is rumbling a lot, this may only be because you’re gassy from a diet that’s too high in fiber, carbohydrates, or artificial sweeteners. Or, maybe, you’re drinking too many carbonated drinks, (where do you think all those bubbles go?). Excess gas may also mean that you’re lactose intolerant (can’t digest milk products), or that you have other food or drug allergies.
  • If your stomach is constantly aching, don’t ignore it. You could be suffering from ulcers, a gall bladder condition, or pancreatic, appendix, or digestive issues. There’s also a condition which usually occurs in children called, “abdominal migraine”. This is similar to when adults get migraine headaches.
  • If you haven’t had a bowel movement, pooped, taken the Browns to the Super Bowl, or shat for 3 days, you are what we call “BACKED UP”. We’re supposed to be eliminating each time that we eat, but some of our bodies are so jacked up that we’re happy to go once a day…some of us even settle for once, every other day! Drink lots of water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables to keep it movin’.
  • And, if you’ve ever wondered why your kids are droppin’ bigger turds than you, think about all the nasty stuff that’s accumulating in your system. Better out than in, right? If your stools are often small or thin, you may have a gang of blockage down there, which can be a warning sign for colon cancer, or its precursor, colon polyps.
  • If you’re eating smaller portions than usual, but feel full, and you are often nauseous, vomiting, bleeding, and experiencing fever or weight loss, you may have a bowel obstruction. This means that something is preventing you from pooping.
  • Surprisingly, vomiting can sometimes be caused by stress.
  • If you’ve had diarrhea for 2-3 days, you may have a bacterial or viral infection, parasites, or a colon problem, like cancer.
  • Don’t be afraid to look in the toilet after you go! The color of your stool can tell you a lot. Black, tar-like stools may be a result of taking too much iron, but can also be caused by bleeding in the stomach or the esophagus. Bright red stools may be caused by intestinal bleeding, but more often come from eating red foods, especially if they’re artificially dyed. If your stool’s very pale, this can be a result of too much calcium, or it may come from eating a lot of rice or potatoes. But if your stool is always pale, this may be a signal that your bile ducts are blocked by tumors, a pancreatic disorder, or liverdisease (like hepatitis, cirrhosis, or liver cancer).
  • Stool with an extremely bad and unusual smell can indicate a more serious condition, such as cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or chronic pancreatitis.

Urinary Tract

  • The first time that you urinate in the morning, expect that your urine will be darker and smellier than it will be for the rest of the day. This is because, as you sleep, the minerals and toxins in the body accumulate. For the rest of the day, your urine should be light-colored and odorless. This is assuming that you have normal functioning kidneys, no bladder disease, and no infection.
  • What you eat can also affect the odor and color of your urine. Asparagus causes your urine to smell strange and turmeric (a spice) can turn your urine bright yellow.
  • Sweet-smelling urine is caused by the excretion of blood sugars and can be a warning sign for diabetes. This sweet smell is associated with ketonuria and may also occur as a result of excessive dieting.
  • Red urine can indicate diabetic nephropathy (diabetic related kidney failure), papillary renal cell carcinoma (cancer), aloe poisoning, or simply eating too many beets or using certain prescription drugs.
  • Frequent urination is also associated with diabetes.
  • Blood in urine can be a sign of a urinary tract infection or bladder cancer. Blood in the urine may also occur due to cysts, stones, infection or inflammation along the urinary tract.
  • Very low urine output, known as oliguria, can be a symptom of renal failure, urinary blockage, or insufficient blood supply to the kidneys.
  • Men with enlarged prostates, or prostate cancer, have difficulty with starting to urinate.
  • Women who have difficulty controlling their bladder can practice Kegal exercises to strengthen their muscles and prevent leakage. A loss of bladder control is sometimes a result of multiple child-births.
  • If you feel the need to urinate, but only a few drops trickle out and it hurts like hell, you could have a urinary tract infection, or you may be burning from an STD. Betta get that checked out homie.

Menstrual Cycle

  • Normal menstrual cycles (if you have them) are timed anywhere from 21 to 35 days apart. More frequent, and they could indicate a gynecological condition like fibroids(benign uterine tumors), or endometriosis (a condition where the tissue that lines the uterus starts to migrate outside of it).
  • Sometimes a woman has a really painful cycle and has no idea she’s suffering from endometriosis. The endometrial tissue, which usually lines the uterus, attaches to other body parts and organs like the ovaries and bowels.
  • If your menstrual cycles are erratic, you could have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal imbalance caused by an overproduction of male hormones– a condition thought to affect up to 10% of all American women.
  • Abnormal bleeding can also be a sign of miscarriage, disease or pregnancy, and should also not be ignored.
  • Some women in their 30s also start to notice heavier or more frequent bleeding, caused by hormonal changes. Either way, if you notice something out of the ordinary, it’s a good idea to get checked out. And if you’re a man, you definitely need to see someone.

While we’re down here…the Reproductive Area

  • Itching, burning, bumps, lumps, little bugs, sores, blisters, discharge, or anything else that’s unusual around your genitals could be signs of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • Painful, urination, pelvic pains and pain in the scrotum are signs of an STD.
  • Go get checked out on the regular, so that you’re not the one who is infecting and re-infecting others. That is so not a good look. Most STDs are treatable and curable.


  • Swollen legs and feet are an indication that your body is not eliminating water properly. This is also called edema. Edema can be a sign of kidney or liverdisease, or even heart failure. Congestive heart failure not only affects the lower extremities. It may also cause for your lungs to fill with fluid. This is called pulmonary edema.
  • Pregnant women are also frequently affected by edema. But don’t worry Sis, it’s an excellent excuse to sit down and put your feet up.


  • Numbness and tingling in the feet can be indicators of vascular disease and other circulatory problems. Nerve damage also often begins at the extremities (hands and feet). Numbness and tingling often occur as a result of nerve damage, and this condition is associated with uncontrolled diabetes. Since blood circulation is compromised for diabetics, even a minor scratch or sore on the feet can become infected easily. The lack of sensation can make it easy to ignore the wound. Gangrene can then set in, requiring amputation of the affected limb. People with diabetes are urged to check their feet every day for any kind of scratch or lesion.
  • If you have pain, tenderness or limited motion in the joints of your feet, you may have arthritis. This is especially true if this pain worsens over time.
  • If you are a male and over 30 with acute pain in the big toe or other joint, you may have gout. Gout results in hot, red, and swollen joints. “The Gout” is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood, and is a chronic form of arthritis.
  • If you have flat feet, you’re at increased risk of exercise injuries.
  • If your feet lose color and you notice increased or periodic swelling in the lower extremities, you may have hypertension.
  • Pain in the ankles can be a sign of problems in your knee and hip joints.

Symptoms of all kinds are your body’s way of communicating with you. Defined as a change from normal function or appearance, minor or serious, symptoms are warning signs! A diseased person can typically experience indicators over a long period of time before a diagnosis is made. As Peter McWilliams writes in Life 101:

Pain (any pain, emotional, physical, mental) has a message. The information it has about our life can be remarkably specific, but it usually falls into one of two categories: We would be more alive if we did more of this, and, life would be more lovely if we did less of that. Once we get the pain’s message, and follow its advice, the pain goes away…The more severe the pain or illness, the more severe will be the necessary changes. These may involve breaking bad habits, or acquiring some new and better ones.

If we pay attention to these indicators early on, we might prevent the onset of disease altogether.

The above excerpt comes from The Hood Health Handbook: A Practical Guide to Health and Wellness in the Urban Community, Volume One, published by Supreme Design Publishing. You can learn more about this book and others like it at www.supremedesignonline.com

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