Published March 27, 2013
Foot cramps? Shivers? They’re usually just a nuisance, but here’s what these strange symptoms may be trying to tell you.
1. You Get Light-Headed When You Stand Up Quickly
The explanation: You could be mildly dehydrated. Or you might have orthostatic hypotension (a.k.a. postural hypotension), which occurs when blood rushes to your feet and away from your head as you stand up suddenly. (People with low blood pressure can be especially prone to this phenomenon.)
The fix: Drink plenty of fluids and be sure that when you stand up, you do it slowly, says Dr. Donnica Moore, a physician in Far Hills, N.J. If you see stars anyway, grab a table or a chair to stabilize yourself or sit back down.
When to see a doctor: If the light-headedness persists or if you actually faint.
2. Your Urine Smells Funny
The explanation: The change in color or odor could be from something you ate, like asparagus, or swallowed, like a new medication or multivitamin. Or it could be a sign of a urinary-tract infection, even if you don’t have pain or need to go to the bathroom frequently (the usual telltale signs), says Dr. Kathryn Teng, a staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic.
The fix: “Drink plenty of fluids to see if your body will clear it,” Teng says.
When to see a doctor: If the foul smell or strange color persists. A urinalysis can determine if anything unusual (like diabetes or kidney problems) is going on.
3. You Sometimes Get a Painful Swelling Under Your Arm
The explanation: It could be due to a plugged hair follicle or an ingrown hair in your armpit (from shaving, for example) or a swollen lymph node (from an infection).
The fix: Try putting a warm compress on it several times a day and see if it goes away within a week, says Teng.
When to see a doctor: If it lasts longer or if it worsens (and gets red or irritated). “It could be a sign of a breast infection, a cyst, or a tumor,” says Teng.
4. Your Hands Get Sweaty in Certain Situations
The explanation: Sweaty palms happen to everyone now and then, and they’re a normal response to stress or a case of the jitters.
The fix: Taking a few minutes to try to relax—by breathing deeply, meditating, or visualizing a tranquil place—may help prevent or relieve the sweatiness, says Teng.
When to see a doctor: If your hands are constantly sweaty. You could have hyperhidrosis, a disorder involving excessive sweating of the hands, feet, or underarms. Applying an antiperspirant on the palms can treat the condition, says Roshini Raj, an assistant professor of medicine at New York University and the author of What the Yuck?! The Freaky & Fabulous Truth About Your Body. So can a medication prescribed by your doctor. In very serious cases, surgery can remove the part of the nerve that’s stimulating the sweat glands to become overactive.
5. You Get Foot Cramps at Night
The explanation: A subtle electrolyte imbalance (involving potassium, magnesium, or calcium) or mild dehydration may be triggering these cramps, says Teng.
The fix: Get up and walk around, then massage the muscle to help it relax.
When to see a doctor: If you get them nightly or during the day when you walk. A condition such as a blood-clotting disorder or nerve damage could be to blame.
6. Your Foot Goes Numb When You’re on the StairMaster
The explanation: When you move your feet in a repetitive way during a workout, or if your shoes or laces are too tight, the “tiny nerves between your toes can get pinched as you put pressure on your foot,” says Dr. Sabrina Strickland, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York City, and that can make it feel uncomfortably numb.
The fix: During your workout, wiggle your toes in your shoes a few times—and loosen your laces if they’re too tight.
When to see a doctor: If numbness happens during other activities or you can’t make it go away. You could have a nerve problem in your foot.
7. Your Body Jerks as You Fall Asleep
The explanation: These hypnic jerks, or sleep starts, probably stem from nerves misfiring as your brain and body downshift into sleep mode. “An interruption in your brain’s signal to your body to relax can cause the limbs and head to jerk,” says Dr. Clete A. Kushida, the medical director of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, in Redwood City, Calif.
The fix: There’s nothing you can do to prevent these harmless jerks. Fortunately, they last only a few seconds.
When to see a doctor: If they happen frequently or disturb your sleep, as they might be a sign of sleep apnea or periodic limb movement disorder.