As many rare disease sufferers know, sometimes the key symptom that leads to a diagnosis may be mundane or bizarre. Whether you are healthy or chronically ill, daily life is full of other concerns to distract you from the seemingly harmless quirks of your body. Many of these strange ailments are completely benign or explained by something you had not considered, but some may be a message from your body that something is wrong.
Keep in mind that most of these symptoms may occur periodically in any person’s life and are easily explained by other causes. If your symptom becomes severe, seek medical attention immediately. If you are experiencing other health issues, however, you may want to mention your strange symptom to your doctor. It could be another clue in finding the right diagnosis.
Immune System Symptoms
The healthy immune system is a microbe killing machine, honed by evolution and adapting to a person’s environment throughout his or her life. For different reasons, many of which are still not completely understood, the immune system sometimes malfunctions and attacks the body it is supposed to protect.
The rate of patients diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (AID) has been steadily increasing, a result of many factors including better diagnostic approaches and recognition. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) believes that 50 million Americans have some form of immune-related disorder. Disorders like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Type I Diabetes, and even mild Eczema many encounter are all part of this family of diseases. There are over 80 identified autoimmune disorders and research continues to add new and recategorized disorders (like Type II Diabetes) to the list.
AID overall occurs most often in women (78% of all diagnosed), although specific AID may be more prevalent in men. The chances of an individual developing some type of AID increase with living in an industrialized country, a family history of any AID, certain ethnic or racial backgrounds, and other environmental factors that may play a role in developing AID. If you have been feeling particularly fatigued, ill, or “off” and experience the symptoms below, you may want to start researching the AIDs that best fit you to discuss with a doctor.
1. Sudden Onset of Multiple Allergies
Adult onset of allergies and sensitivities is not unusual. The sudden development of many sensitivities at once, however, may be a sign of a larger health issue. Hives, rashes, and localized swelling caused by several new allergens, or with no real explanation at all, may be dismissed as an inconvenience.
Those who are suddenly intolerant of foods that used to be part of their regular diet (such as gluten or dairy) may decide that it is a typical part of aging and adjust their lives accordingly. All of these could be signs of an underlying autoimmune disease, especially if all are occurring to the same individual. A faulty immune system can become indiscriminately aggressive, causing allergy-type reactions to many different environmental factors. It can also be responsible for chronic gastrointestinal discomfort that is often blamed on food intolerance.
2. Dry Eyes
Itchy eyes during allergy season are probably just a case of hay fever, but if you find yourself reaching for the artificial teardrops year-round it may be time to ask if something else is going on. One particularly identifiable autoimmune condition is Sjogren’s Syndrome, an AID that attacks the moisture-producing glands of the body and causes dry eyes and mouth.
Dry eyes are also associated with other autoimmune diseases, and chronic dry eye could be an indication that your immune system is not working correctly. If you have not seen an ophthalmologist since your symptoms began, you should schedule an appointment to check for potentially damaging inflammation in your eyes.
3. Thinning Eyebrows
Now that bushy eyebrows are “in”, have you noticed yours are getting thinner? In some cases this may be normal, such as during menopause or as a side effect to certain medications. In others, it may be an indication that something is amiss. Hypothyroidism, the underperformance of the thyroid gland, can cause hair loss, starting with the outer third of the eyebrows.
In many cases an AID is to blame for the under active gland, although some incidents are explained by other causes. Other AIDs, including Alopecia and Eczema, could also be to blame for patchy brows. Thin brows can also be a sign of a nutrient deficiency, which may be caused by a disorder or may need to be addressed with dietary changes. If your brows are unintentionally sparse, you should see a healthcare professional to check for any potential problems.
4. Neurological Symptoms
Like the computer system in most cars today, our brain is responsible for a lot of tasks that keep our body in working order, including monitoring its health. Unlike a car, however, the part of our brain that works below our conscious awareness does not have a dashboard light to indicate that maintenance is needed. Instead, it must find another way to draw attention to a health concern.
In some cases, strange symptoms may be the brain’s form of a “check engine” signal. In other cases, the symptom may result from damage to the brain itself and may help point to its underlying cause. If you are having strange symptoms like those below, take some time to assess how you are feeling and if your body is trying to send you a message.
5. Strange Smells
It is a fairly popular belief that smelling burnt toast is a warning sign of stroke. While not necessarily true, if you have frequent episodes of sensing intense, unexplained scents it may be a sign that something is awry in your brain. A stroke can affect any part of the brain – including the parts that correlate to sensory perception.
But a stroke is not the only explanation for phantom odors, and they may in fact be a symptom of an underlying medical condition like a tumor or lesion. Epilepsy is one possible cause of these confusing smells, and while you may not experience full body seizures or other obvious symptoms of the disorder it could still be a serious threat to your health.
If you often find yourself searching in vain for the source of a stench no one else seems to notice, it may be time to bring it up to your doctor.
6. Impending Sense of Doom
The average person is likely to experience some level of depression or generalized anxiety in their lifetime. But if you feel as if something disastrous will happen soon and find it difficult to concentrate, sleep, or function normally in everyday life it is time to go see a physician. At the very least you may have a generalized anxiety disorder or depression that needs to be addressed.
If you do not have a history of anxiety attacks, it is likely that another health issue is the cause of your change in mood. There are also other, more urgent possibilities. A feeling of doom can be a precursor to a heart attack. Periodic episodes of despair could be caused by mini strokes, which often go unnoticed but precede 15% of strokes.
After experiencing a transient ischemic attack, or mini stroke, 17% of people will have a stroke within three months. If you are at risk for either health event, you should take these warning signs seriously and speak with a doctor as soon as you can.
7. Persistent Hiccups
Everyone has a special trick for getting rid of the hiccups, but most hiccups are temporary and will stop on their own. If drinking from the opposite side of the glass still won’t make them stop after 48 hours, you may need to seek medical attention. There is a good chance your persistent hiccups are harmless. They may be the result of medication you are taking, or something relatively innocuous like acid reflux. However, you may have a tumor, infection, or inflammation in your abdomen or throat that is triggering a hiccup response, or your brain may be misfiring because of similar damage. A visit to the doctor’s will give you a chance to adjust medications, treat an underlying condition, or possibly catch a much more serious health concern.
The next time you feel “off”, take a break from your busy life to check in with your body. Has some unrecognized health issue been dramatically altering your life? Is there some “quirky” symptom that could provide your physician with more diagnostic clues? Unless you are in a life-threatening situation that requires immediate care, take some time to journal your “strange symptoms” and see if they might be a missing piece to your diagnostic puzzle.
Suffering from strange symptoms and want objective answers? Consider submitting your case to CrowdMed to get answers from a group of medical experts who will work together to find the answer to your case.