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Your skin is window to your health

By Sola Ogundipe

Your skin can be a window to your underlying health. Almost every health condition translates to the skin. When your skin talks you need to listen. Many underlying health conditions— some very serious—first appear as skin.

problems. The skin is the organ that comes into contact with the rest of the world. It holds body fluids in, preventing and keeps harmful microbes out—without it, we would get infections.

Why healthy skin is important

The skin is full of nerve endings that help you feel things like heat, cold, and pain. If you couldn’t feel these things, you could get badly hurt and not even know it! Since the skin plays such an important role in protecting the body, you should keep it as healthy as you can. This will help you keep from getting sick or having damage to your bones, muscles, and internal organs. Here are common skin problems and how to cope with them.

What your skin is trying to tell you

When your epidermis is showing—and it’s trying to tell you something. When something isn’t functioning well on the inside, the clues start appearing on the outside. Give yourself a quick check for these surprising signs.

Wrinkles

If you have many deep wrinkles, it could mean a heightened risk for bone fractures. If you have velvety, brownish-grey patches of skin, it could mean diabetes. This kind of discoloration commonly appears, increases and folds around the groin, underarms, and the neck; it can be an early warning sign for type 2 diabetes—a disease that can involve elevated levels of the hormone insulin.

Dull, dry skin

If you have dull, dry skin, it could mean a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids that are  famous for their health perks: They support brain function, reduce inflammation, and can help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. A deficiency can slow the natural exfoliation cycle, resulting in dryness—even dandruff. The best way to get omega-3s is from your diet. Eat plenty of salmon, sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans, all of which are rich in fatty acids.

Intense itchiness

If you have intense itchiness, it could mean Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Severe, persistent itchiness—triggered by an overabundance of abnormal cells circulating in the bloodstream—can be a very early sign of these two types of cancer. If you have discoloration or swelling of your lower legs, it could mean venous insufficiency. Once blood flows down to your legs, your veins have to pump it back up to your body’s core. Veins that are not working properly struggle to transport blood against gravity, so the blood collects in the lower legs, causing redness and swelling. A variety of conditions may be the cause. Make an appointment with an internist to begin pinpointing the problem.

Butterfly rash

A butterfly rash across the face is often the first sign of lupus. But don’t jump to conclusions. It could be rosacea, it could be contact dermatitis. Unfortunately, sometimes it is a sign of lupus.

Velvet plaques

Velvety plaques in the neck and/or armpit suggest diabetes. This condition — acanthosis nigricans — could be benign or be caused by obesity. But it is very often a sign of diabetes. In rare cases acanthosis nigricans occurring in other places, such the hands or lips, may indicate an internal cancer.

Leg plaque: Red on edge, gold in center

Doctors call it necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum. As the name suggests, it’s a distinctive sign of diabetes, but it is rare. It can first appear as a dull, reddish colored patch but then become shinier with a distinct border. Sometimes the affected skin may crack and become itchy or painful.

Itchy, violet bumps on wrist

Lichen planus is a rash made up of reddish-purple, flat-topped bumps that may itch like crazy. It usually appears on the wrists or ankles, but may be in the mouth or on the lower back, neck, legs, and genitals. The cause isn’t known, but if you have it, you may need to get liver tests. It could be linked to having hepatitis C.

Flesh coloured, orange-peel patches on back

Shagreen patches are flesh-colored lesions on the lower back that have the texture of an orange peel. They often occur with other skin signs: red or brown acne-like bumps spreading across the cheeks and nose; and ash-leaf spots of under-pigmented skin, most often on the trunk, that are oval at one end and pointy at the other. These are signs of a rare genetic disease called tuberous sclerosis that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs.

Scaly rash on buttocks, red tongue

Fortunately, this is pretty rare. It’s a red, scaly rash, sometimes with small erosions of the skin, more often seen in elderly patients. It tends to start in the fold of the buttocks or palms but can be elsewhere on the body. A bright red, painful tongue is common. The condition usually signals a pancreatic tumour.


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