When Jay Mehra, MD, met Mudit Arora at a restaurant at Bandra in Mumbai, alarm bells immediately rang with the general practitioner. Noticing Mudit’s particularly “fleshy” hand, Jay suspected he had a brain tumour (the condition causes soft tissue deposits in the hands). The diagnosis was confirmed and the tumour successfully removed.
All thanks to a handshake. The lesson is that however innocuous your symptoms, they could be a life-saving early warning. Follow this DIY guide to spot problems before it’s too late.
Back pain… It could be a kidney stone
You feel a sharp pain between your ribs and hip, but “because it’s often inconsistent, you may put it down to excessive lifting at first,” says BUPAUK’s assistant medical director Sneh Khemka, MD. It may spell worse news than a postponed date with the barbell, though. “One in 10 men get kidney stones,” says Khemka.
“Untreated, they can block urine flow, making your kidney swell. The pain can eventually become so severe it’s been described as the closest a man can get to childbirth,” says Khemka. Which is a little too much “empathy” for any man to experience.
Act now: “If the pain returns or moves into your groin, see your doctor immediately,” says Khemka. Treatment varies from non-invasive sound waves to having a tube inserted somewhere sensitive. You can keep stones at bay with 45 minutes cardio three times a week, according to a research in Medical News Today. “You should also drink 2.5 litres of water a day to prevent stones,” says Khemka.
Pain in your foot… It could be a slipped disc
Assuming it’s not caused by dropping a dumbbell on your foot, “a herniated or prolapsed disc can produce sharp foot pain,” says Dr PK Dave, HOD, orthopaedic, Rockland Hospital, New Delhi.
“Pain is usually worse in the morning and aggravated by sitting. It’s commonly missed as a disc problem because there’s no back pain.” But it won’t go away. “Unchecked it will put increasing pressure on the sciatic nerve, which can lead to loss of bladder function and invalidity.”
Act now: “Lie on your stomach and do 10 gentle cobra poses (arching your back up and slowly straightening your arms, but keeping your hips on the floor),” says Dr Dave. If the pain eases, you probably have a slipped disc since these extensions relieve the pressure. “Do cobra poses every hour until you can get to a physio.”
Bad breath… It could be lung disease
Don’t just blame last night’s garlic. Bad breath could signal a host of problems Tic-Tacs won’t fix. “Lung disease, asthma and cystic fibrosis all cause highly acidic breath,” says University of Virginia researcher John Hunt, MD.
“And the more acidic the breath, the more severe the condition.” US Dental Association data found that while 90 per cent of cases of bad breath were down to hygiene and gums, the other 10 per cent were linked to systematic infections like lung disease, abscesses, and even liver failure.
Act now: Rule out likely causes: dry mouth, sinus infection, gum disease and smoking by visiting your dentist. “They can also spot signs of mouth cancer, if there is any, that is,” says Mumbai-based Dr Sandesh M Mayekar, aesthetic and cosmetic dentist. “Early detection increases your survival chances from 50-90 per cent,” Dr Mayekar says.
If the dentist suspects your breath may have a “deeper” cause-like lung disease- they’ll refer you to your GP who’ll send you for tests to measure its acidity. And if you get the all clear, direct yourself to the nearest Tic-Tac retailer.
Diarrhoea… It could be an overactive thyroid
The tear-jerking tryst with your U-bend is bad enough, but one in 50 of us will suffer the very worst of this hormonal malfunction. Left untreated, the form that most commonly affects young men-Graves’ disease-can debilitate muscles and make your hair drop out. It can also lead to severe vision problems. Symptoms include severe bouts of diarrhoea along with dramatic weight loss despite having a healthy appetite.
Act now: Maybe those oysters didn’t taste right, but if the diarrhoea lasts several days, coupled with poor sleep or intolerance of heat, it’s likely you have a thyroid problem. So see your general physician for blood tests.
Erectile dysfunction… It could be Parkinson’s
As if going soft wasn’t already hard to swallow, Harvard research recently found that men who reported erectile dysfunction were almost four times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease later in life.
Act now: There’s no known way to prevent the disease, though recent research by US neurologists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota suggests that developing drugs which mimic a protective gene variation could be the key. Don’t start panicking already, though. While around a few million men will experience impotence, Parkinson’s disease may not be the only culprit. It is more likely to be caused by stress, smoking, alcohol, or injury than Parkinson’s disease.
Neck/Shoulder pain… It could be Lyme disease
Aching joints curtailing your gym session? Throbbing headache? Had some al fresco summer loving? Maybe it was just a very good night, but may be you haven’t noticed a pencil-point size tick that’s latched onto you.
“It’s very difficult to spot, so many cases of Lyme disease are only reported when serious symptoms set in,” explains David Owen, MD, who specialises in researching the disease. Most of us tend to ignore neck pain thinking it’s a mere result of sleeping bad. If you’re one of them, you could face meningitis, facial palsy and severe arthritis. So next time you feel the pain in your neck, check thoroughly.
Act now: Along with headaches and muscular aches, look for red lesions. “If you get a bite, avoid squeezing a tick’s body and cleanse any skin break with antiseptic,” says Owen. “It’s difficult to diagnose, so if possible save the tick in a container labelled with date and location, which will help your doctor.” Treatment comes in the form of antibiotics.
Leg pain… It could be heart disease
“Leg pain when you’re walking or running is a common symptom of cardiovascular disease,” says Dr Atul Mathur, director, interventional cardiology at the Escorts Heart Centre, New Delhi.
“Leg pain can be due to orthopaedic problems too. But the narrowing of your spinal cord can choke your arteries. If the pain stops when you stop walking or running, but gets worse when carrying weight, or walking fast, then it’s probably an early warning that you’re at high risk for heart attack or stroke as the arteries supplying the lower limbs narrow,” says Dr Mathur.
Act now: If you’re getting leg aches and, particularly, if your father or anyone in the family had heart problems, have your doctor check your cholesterol and blood pressure. You may be referred for an ankle brachial index to measure blood pressure in your legs.