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What Is Your Body Telling You?

Confused Guy

Every pop, ping, ache, and pain has a meaning. Here’s when to take action.

1. Cracking Joints
Most Likely Causes
The fluid around a joint contains a variety of gases, such as oxygen and nitrogen. When you crack a joint, you cause the joint to stretch, which rapidly releases gas bubbles that snap, crack, or pop. The cracking sound could also be due to a tendon rubbing across bone.

Less Likely Cause
If you feel pain each time a joint cracks, it may be a sign of a cartilage or joint problem, such as arthritis.

What to do:
*
If the cracking doesn't hurt, don't sweat it.
* If you have pain or swelling, or the joint is red or warm or has limited motion, see a doctor to find out what's going on.

2. Dry Eyes
Most Likely Causes
Staring at a computer for too long, consuming too much alcohol, or being in cold, dry, or windy conditions can increase the evaporation of the tear film on the eyes. Antidepressants, antihistamines, and cold medicines can dry out the eyes.

Less Likely Causes
Chronically dry eyes can also point to hyperthyroidism or an autoimmune disease, like lupus.

What to do:
*
For mild dryness, preservative-free over-the-counter artificial tears will lubricate and protect the eyes.
* Wear UV-blocking wraparound sunglasses when you're out in cold or windy weather.
* At night, use an ointment like Refresh PM (available at drugstores) inside your lower lids.
* For severely or chronically dry eyes, see your doctor for tests and perhaps a prescription for eyedrops.

3. Cold Hands
Most Likely Causes
Stress or apprehension can rev up the nervous system, causing blood vessels to constrict and thus inhibiting circulation to the hands. Also, some people simply have slower circulation than others.

Less Likely Causes
If your fingers also spasm, go numb, and change in color (from whitish to blue to bright red), you may have Raynaud's phenomenon, which can affect blood flow to the extremities. Other possibilities: a connective-tissue disorder, blocked arteries, or side effects from some drugs, such as beta-blockers.

What to do:
*
Try deep breathing or any easy relaxation technique to enhance circulation if you suspect stress is the cause. Keep your hands warm.
* If your hands go cold for no apparent reason or if it happens frequently, talk to your doctor about being tested for Raynaud's or other conditions.

4. A Chronic Cough
Most Likely Causes
Something is tickling your throat, and a cough is your body's reflexive way of trying to expel the irritant. It may be postnasal drainage from allergies, or you may have hyperactive nasal mucus membranes sending liquid down your throat. Acid reflux can also irritate the throat and trigger coughing.

Less Likely Causes
Airway spasms are a side effect of some drugs, such as ACE inhibitors. Chronic obstructive lung disease (often due to smoking), pulmonary fibrosis (which involves scarring of the lungs), or a heart-valve problem can also produce coughing if fluid accumulates in the lungs.

What to do:
*
Schedule a checkup and discuss any other symptoms you may have to help your doctor figure out what's going on. He will probably listen to your lungs and heart and may even order a chest X-ray. Treating the underlying condition should stop the cough.

5. Muscle Cramps in Legs
Most Likely Causes
Sitting or standing for too long in one position, or a long day in high heels, can strain the muscles in the calves and lead to cramps, sometimes hours later or during the night. Dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance can also cause muscles to spasm.

Less Likely Causes
Statins, anticonvulsants, antihistamines, estrogens, and osteoporosis drugs can cause muscle cramps as a side effect. Blocked or narrowed arteries can also decrease blood flow to the legs, causing cramps.

What to do:
*
Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and eat foods rich in the electrolytes calcium, potassium, and magnesium, such as leafy greens, bananas, and beans.
* Choose low, well-supported shoes to avoid straining the calves.
* Stretch your legs after walking, exercising, sitting still for a long period, or wearing high heels.

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6. Night Sweats
Most Likely Causes
Hormonal fluctuations can alter the body's internal thermostat, making you sweat as you sleep. A thyroid disorder can also cause night sweats.

Less Likely Causes
Some drugs, including antidepressants, have this side effect. Certain diseases, such as cancer, lupus, and a major infection (like tuberculosis), can also leave you dripping at night.

What to do:
* Lower the temperature in your bedroom at night by opening a window or using a fan.
* Moisture-wicking sleepwear and sheets (in a microfiber material) can make a sweaty episode more tolerable.
* If the sweats don't abate or aren't linked to your menstrual cycle, talk to your doctor to rule out an illness.
* If the problem is hormonal, hormone therapy or a low-dose oral contraceptive might help.

7. Snoring
Most Likely Causes
Being overweight or having nasal or sinus problems (like a deviated septum, nasal polyps, or allergies) can lead to swelling that partially blocks the airway, increasing the chances that the tissues in the back of your throat will shake, rattle, and roll while you sleep.

Less Likely Cause
You may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which snoring is accompanied by brief pauses in breathing as you sleep.

What to do:
*
To keep the airway as open as possible, sleep on your side so your throat tissues don't collapse.
* Breathe Right nasal strips (available at drugstores) can help widen nasal passages so you can breathe more easily.
* If your snoring is keeping you or your partner awake, consult a sleep specialist to find out if OSA may be to blame.

8. Cracks at the Corners of Your Mouth
Most Likely Causes
Excessive lip licking or exposure to the wind, cold, or dry air can dry out the lips and lead to cracks in their very thin skin. Another culprit: a deficiency in iron, vitamin A or C, or any of the B vitamins.

Less Likely Causes
Cracks may be a sign of a fungal infection, such as thrush, which also causes redness around the cracks. Or the cracks may be due to a slight allergic reaction to an ingredient in a cosmetic product you recently started using.

What to do:
*
Keep your lips hydrated by applying a thick, unscented ointment (such as Aquaphor).
* If you recently started using any new cosmetics, stop, then slowly reintroduce them one at a time.
* If the cracks persist, worsen, or seem infected, see a doctor to talk about your diet or to be tested and treated for a fungal infection.

9. Dark Urine
Most Likely Causes
When you don't drink enough water, the pigments in waste that the kidneys excrete are more concentrated, so your urine becomes a deep yellow. Dark urine can also mean you have a urinary-tract infection, which could be sending a small amount of blood into your urine and making it darker.

Less Likely Causes
A bladder or kidney infection can also cause darker urine, as can renal stones and other kidney problems.

What to do:
*
Drink more water. Try this easy rule: Figure your height in inches; that number is the minimum amount in ounces you should be drinking per day. So if you're five-six, that's 66 inches, or 66 ounces.
* See your doctor if the color of your urine doesn't fade, you have a fever or pain with urination, or you urinate with an unusual frequency or urgency.

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