What's with the bumps on my skin?
They're most likely warts, moles, or other benign growths that emerge with age. Among the most common are seborrheic keratoses — waxy bumps that can appear alone or in clusters, usually on the face, chest, shoulders, or back. Also common are cutaneous skin tags — bits of flesh that arise from the skin on little stalks — which often appear on the neck, bra line, armpits, or where skin rubs together. You can ignore these harmless growths — or ask a doctor to remove them if you find them unsightly.
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But they could also be... skin cancer. Perform regular self-checks, and have your doctor check any unusual new growth, especially if it itches, bleeds, or grows rapidly. "It takes a trained eye to distinguish benign growths from skin cancer," says Dana Sachs, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "If a bump doubles in size over a few weeks, that's a warning sign."
Why does my stomach sometimes feel bloated?
It's most likely indigestion or PMS. A fatty meal has slowed your digestion, you have gas, or you're about to get your period — common factors that make bloating a frequent malady in women. Eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of three big ones can keep the stomach from distending and leave you feeling less full. Also, sidestep gas by eating and drinking more slowly; to avoid the water retention that accompanies PMS, go easy on the salt.
But it could also be... irritable bowel syndrome. If you're diagnosed with IBS, try adding yogurt with live cultures to your diet. Studies suggest that probiotics can significantly reduce symptoms of IBS.
Why do I have uneven skin tone on my face?
It's most likely sun damage. Ultraviolet rays can dilate capillaries and make skin look red and blotchy or spur uneven production of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, says Mary P. Lupo, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University school of Medicine. Sun damage can be treated with a combination of retinoids, antioxidants, and bleaching agents, she says. Medications that make skin more sensitive to sun, including some antibiotics and sulfonylureas, can make blotchiness worse.
Overproduction of melanin can also cause gray-brown patches to appear on the face — a harmless condition called melasma, common in women who are on hormone therapy. Prescription creams containing hydroquinone can lighten dark patches.
But it could also be... a symptom of Addison's disease, a disorder of the adrenal glands. See your doctor if your skin develops a darker or grayish hue, and if you are also losing weight and experiencing muscle weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, and nausea.
Why do my hands shake?
It's most likely lack of sleep and too much coffee. Combined with fatigue, caffeine — often from hidden sources — can cause tremors in hands and arms. "One of the first questions I ask patients is what medications they're taking — including OTC drugs, such as Excedrin, that may contain caffeine," says Orly Avitzur, MD, a neurologist and editor-in-chief of the American Academy of Neurology's Web site. See if getting more shut-eye and easing off caffeine helps stop the shaking.
Other meds that can trigger upper-body shaking include bronchodilators such as albuterol, immunosuppressants such as cyclosporine, and antiseizure medications. If you're taking one of these drugs, ask your doctor about adjusting the dosage. Finally, simply being cold or feeling nervous can cause hands to shake.
But it could also be... a sign of an underlying neurological problem such as essential tremor or Parkinson's disease, or a thyroid disorder — conditions that, respectively, can be treated with beta-blockers, levodopa, or antithyroid medications. See a doctor if shaking continues when you're relaxed, if you feel tremors in your legs, or if it affects your coordination.
What's going on with this recurring shoulder pain?
It's most likely computer strain. "Holding your arms in position to use a computer keyboard or mouse can strain the back of your shoulders, especially if you're reaching," says Leon S. Benson, MD, a professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. To prevent strain, take a break from your computer for 5 to 10 minutes once every hour to do other kinds of tasks if you can. To ease discomfort and increase flexibility and strength, try rotating through these 5 basic upper-body dumbbell exercises 3 times a week: shoulder shrugs, upright rows, one-arm rows, reverse flies, and lateral raises.
But it could also be... bursitis, caused by inflammation of small fluid-filled sacs, called bursae, around the shoulder joint, which normally lessen friction among muscles, tendons, and bones. Overuse — whether at the gym, on the tennis court, or in the garden — is usually to blame. Your doctor can diagnose the condition by pressing on the tiny sacs to see if it causes discomfort. OTC pain relievers, icing, and rest can offer relief; your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy or corticosteroid injections.
What are these black lines under my fingernail?
They're most likely blood trapped between the skin and nail that has formed into fine lines called splinter hemorrhages — the result of whacking your finger. Splinter hemorrhages will go away on their own within a few months.
But they could also be... acral lentiginous melanoma, which is a type of skin cancer that develops on easily overlooked areas of the body such as the soles of the feet — or under the nails, where it can form a dark, narrow stripe. ALM accounts for 5% of all diagnosed melanomas. Melanoma should be surgically removed immediately.
Why am I getting whiskers on my chin?
They're most likely due to declining estrogen levels. As estrogen falls after menopause, the body's androgens — male hormones that women have in small amounts — become relatively stronger and can cause dark, coarse hairs to sprout on the chin and cheeks. Plucking or depilatories may be all you need to control minor growth.
But they could also be... symptoms of hirsutism, a condition characterized by abnormally high androgens that could be linked to polycystic ovary syndrome, cushing syndrome, or tumors in the ovaries or adrenal glands. If you also develop other male traits such as a deeper voice, hair loss, or smaller breasts, see your doctor.
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