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Hidden Health Issues That Affect Your Skin and Hair

What Your Skin and Hair Can Tell You about Your Health
  -- By Natalie L. Nichols, Health & Beauty Writer
When you think about your skin and hair, you likely think about what products to use in order to keep them looking healthy, or what type of haircut you’ll get the next time you head to the salon. But the fact of the matter is that our skin and hair are both windows that are trying to tell us what’s going on inside our bodies, too. And, at times, serious medical conditions can be spotted just by knowing what to look for when skin and hair changes begin to occur. 
 
This guide will offer you warning signs you should be on the lookout for when examining your skin and hair, and will also tell you what these symptoms can mean about the state of your health.
 
Symptom: Your hair is dry, limp and feels thinner than usual.
 
What it could mean: Though a lot of factors will lead to dry hair (think chemical processes, heat styling and chlorine from swimming pools), an underactive thyroid can also be to blame. If your hair is feeling finer than usual in addition to becoming dry, you experience fatigue, feel cold most of the day, gain weight and notice a slower heart rate you could have hypothyroidism. If you suspect that you have an underactive thyroid, report your concerns to your doctor right away. 
 
Symptom: You notice thick, scaly, crusty patches on your scalp that start at your hairline.
 
What it could mean: If you notice these symptoms you could have psoriasis. Psoriasis is considered the most common of all autoimmune diseases and often occurs with lupus and Crohn’s disease. Contact your dermatologist right away to discuss the best treatment options available for your condition. Sure, it could just be dandruff, but get some expert advice before deciding to take matters into your own hands.
 
Symptom: Your hair has become dry, brittle and is starting to break. 
 
What it could mean: Sure, sometimes your hair can break with overuse of chemical processes, however, certain health issues can lead to hair breakage, too. For example, you could have Cushing's syndrome, an adrenal disorder that causes excess cortisol production. If you begin to notice more symptoms like dry, flaky skin, you should suspect an underlying health condition. Your brittle hair may also be a sign that your diet lacks omega-3 fatty acids.

Symptom: You see dark, red lines on the palm of your hand.

What it could mean: A deep, red pigment on the palms of your hands could mean that you have an endocrine disorder known as Addison’s disease. If you notice hyperpigmentation around your lips, pressure points and other skin folds, have low blood pressure or crave salt in addition to the palm pigment changes, you may have this disease and should consult your doctor soon. Sometimes these skin changes are the symptoms seen just before an Addisonian crisis--an acute reaction that involves pain, vomiting, dehydration and loss of consciousness.

Symptom: You have a burning, itchy rash that won’t go away.

What it could mean: If you notice clusters of tiny, intensely itchy blisters (known as dermatitis herpetiformis) that seem to repeatedly emerge near your knees, elbows, back, face or buttocks, you could have celiac disease or a gluten allergy. A telltale sign of these health conditions are an itching and burning that’s so intense that you can’t stop scratching the rash. Always report this and any type of rash to your doctor and dermatologist in order to rule out other causes or conditions.

Symptom: You’re a woman who has developed cystic acne in adulthood.

What it could mean: If you’re older than the age of 25 and your adult onset acne appears as deeper, cystic nodules, it could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. And if you notice other symptoms along with your acne such as thinning hair and abnormal menstrual cycles, you could have polycystic ovary disease (PCOD), hypothyroidism, an autoimmune disease or even cancer. Consult your dermatologist as soon as you notice these warning signs in order to get treated right away.

Symptom: You’re young, yet your hair is turning grey.

What it could mean: You can typically blame premature grey hair on genetics, however, anemia, thyroid issues, vitamin B12 deficiency and vitiligo can also be underlying causes. If you’re concerned, contact your dermatologist to rule out any serious conditions.

Symptom: Your hair is thinning all over your head.

What it could mean: Though it’s normal to shed hair every day, it’s important to take notice when you see a whole lot of extra hair in your brush--especially if your hair comes out in clumps. Some common causes include psychological stressors such as a big move or divorce. But more serious conditions like diabetes can also cause your hair to thin or come out in clumps. Schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as you notice this warning sign in order to rule out any serious conditions and start treating your hair loss.
 
As you can see, it’s important to pay attention to the health of your skin and hair when it comes to keeping your body in tip-top shape. Though we’ve only mentioned a handful of medical conditions, there are others that you should be aware of. Read more about when you should visit a dermatologist to seek expert care for your skin and hair.
 
Sources
WebMD, "What Your Hair Says about Your Health," www.webmd.com, accessed on July 8, 2013.
 
Mayo Clinic, "Dandruff," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on July 8, 2013.
 
WebMD, "What Your Skin Says about Your Health," www.webmd.com, accessed on July 8, 2013.
 
American Academy of Dermatology, "Psoriasis," www.aad.org, accessed on July 8, 2013.