A Sign Of Things To Come
Best Health|February/March 2019
A Sign Of Things To Come

Skin rashes, bumps or discolourations? Your skin may be trying to tell you something important about the state of your health. Listen up!

Lisa Kadane

Leslie Doane was travelling in Guate- mala when she noticed her skin and eyes taking on a yellowish tinge.

“I remember looking in a mirror at the whites of my eyes and I thought, ‘That’s not right, that’s not normal. They look really yellow. Am I sick?’” recalls Doane. “I knew that was a sign of hepatitis, but I’d had the Havrix vaccine for Hep A.”

She visited a clinic and a blood test confirmed she’d contracted Hepatitis A, a highly contagious viral liver disease transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food or water, or exposure to people with the illness through close personal contact, such as caring for an infected friend. After a couple months of extreme fatigue and lots of rest, Doane’s energy levels rebounded, and her jaundice (the yellowing of skin and eyes) receded.

Jaundice is a common symptom of liver disease, but it’s not the only surface change that signals an internal health problem.

Our skin is more than just our covering. It is the body’s largest organ, and as such, is synergistically connected to other organs through our lymphatic, nervous and circulatory systems. Its size, visibility and accessibility often make it the first place that symptoms of internal disease show up

“There are so many skin manifestations of disease, whether you’re talking about liver disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, endocrine disorders, malignancy. Almost every disease of organs has a skin symptom,” says Dr. Lynne Robertson, a dermatologist and clinical associate professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Dermatology, at the University of Calgary.

We’ve been taught for years to monitor our skin and look for differences in moles that could indicate skin cancer. Not to add to your daily postshower regimen, ladies, but changes in colour, texture or feeling on the skin’s surface – in the form of rashes, growths or sensations such as itching – should also be checked out. And it doesn’t stop with just the skin– alterations in the nails or with hair growth (or loss) can also be a tip-off that something’s not right internally.

“One of the things I really love about my job is that a lot of it is detective work,” says Dr. Marcie Ulmer, a cosmetic and medical dermatologist with Pacific Derm in Vancouver. “It's like a window into one’s health – the skin, the hair and even the nails can provide clues to what’s going on inside.”

Here are eight diseases that may first reveal themselves through skin analysis.

LUPUS

This autoimmune disease affects one in 1,000 people, more commonly women. It causes inflammation in tissues or organs such as the skin, muscles, joints, kidneys, lungs and heart. Its nickname is “the disease with 1,000 faces” because it presents differently in each case, making it difficult to diagnose.

WARNING SIGNS

The classic skin symptom is a butterfly rash on the cheeks and bridge of the nose. There might also be a history of sun sensitivity, mouth ulcers or other skin rashes.

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February/March 2019