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Our bodies are amazing machines that, when they work well, perform pretty effortlessly. But when they do send subtle signals — clues that something may be amiss — it’s important to pay attention. Here are three ways your body may be trying to tell you something and what you should do about them.

White Areas on Fingernails

While some nail conditions may be benign, others may be a sign of something more serious. Dr. Anna Land, a board-certified dermatologist with Ren Dermatology in Franklin, TN, says white spots on your fingernails can be the result of a medical condition called leukonychia. “There is ‘true leukonychia,’ where the white spots are on the nail plate itself and grow out as the nail grows. There is also ‘apparent leukonychia,’ where the spots appear like they are on the nail, but they disappear when pressure is applied (because they are actually on the nail bed instead of the nail plate),” she says.

Dr. Land explains leukonychia takes place in three forms, which are referred to as Terry’s nails, Lindsay’s nails, and Muehrcke’s nails. Terry’s nails are primarily all-white, Lindsay’s nails (sometimes called “half-and-half” nails) are white near the bottom, and Muehrcke’s nails have white lines running parallel across the width of the nail. “These can all be associated with internal health problems, including liver disease (Terry’s nails), kidney disease (Lindsay’s nails), or low albumin levels and nephrotic syndrome (Muehrcke’s nails), as well as malnutrition and chemotherapy,” explains Dr. Land. She also notes these white areas can point to fungal infection, which also causes changes in the nail’s texture.

Leukonychia takes three forms, each one pointing to different potential health issues, such as liver disease and kidney disease. Clockwise from left: Terry’s nails, Muehrcke’s nails and Lindsay’s nails. Images: Wikimedia Commons

When addressing this problem, Dr. Land suggests to first determine whether the spots are true or apparent leukonychia by pressing on the nail. “If the white areas are true leukonychia (they don’t disappear when you press on the nail) and are scattered spots, they are likely trauma-induced. I encourage people to minimize potential triggers (like manicures, nail-biting, etc.) and allow the nails to grow out,” she says. “Remember nails grow slowly, and complete regrowth can take six to nine months.” However, if the white areas are vertical or horizontal, disappear when pressure is applied, and increase in size, Dr. Land encourages people to seek professional help, as blood work may be necessary to diagnose any underlying medical conditions.

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Jaw Popping

A clicking or popping sound in the jaw can be a painful sensation, and it’s typically a sign something has gone awry in the jaw’s joints (also known as the TMJ, or temporomandibular joint). Dr. Paul Koch, of Koch Aesthetic Dentistry in Birmingham, AL, says this sound can stem from a variety of causes. “When we hear a noise, in most cases, it is the fibrous cartilage disc (or shock absorber) popping on or off the lower jaw bone,” he explains. “This can happen because one of the muscles is pulling too hard on the disc and positioning it off the bone, or there can be scar tissue in the disc or joint.” Other causes may include arthritis, past mouth trauma, joint inflammation or issues with specific bones.

In many cases, however, the problem is traced back to a misalignment of the teeth. Dr. Koch relates this misalignment to gears on a clock: “If a tooth was larger than the rest, it would affect how the gears came together and would likely cause something to break down or break off,” he says. “This is often what we find when we evaluate the bite with the muscles relaxed. Most people who have pain are dealing with the body trying to make things come together the best it can, and the muscles get overworked.”

As a fairly complicated issue, Dr. Koch admits there is no “one size fits all” treatment, so it’s important to find what works for you. “The best way to approach TMJ problems is to work with a qualified dentist who can evaluate the joints, bite, teeth and muscles to determine the myriad causes that may be contributing to symptoms. [The dentist can then] recommend an appropriate treatment plan to address them,” he explains. These treatments may include short-term or long-term bite splints, bite rehabilitation, dental restoration (such as crowns, onlays or veneers), physical therapy or chiropractic manipulation to name a few.

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Undereye Circles

Dark circles under the eyes is a fairly common condition. Laurie Hays, BA, R.N., and owner of Facial Rejuvenation Center in Nashville, TN, says these circles are a result of thinning skin or blood vessels causing pigmentation.

While most people think these circles are a result of poor eating habits or a lack of sleep, there are other common reasons that may be causing them. “Dark circles can affect anyone of any age and ethnicity for a variety of reasons. Genetics, aging and lifestyle factors all play a part in the development of dark circles,” explains Laurie. “People may also find that allergies, nutrient deficiencies or underlying health conditions can cause dark circles.”

When it comes to treating and preventing undereye circles, Laurie suggests making lifestyle changes first. “Researchers found that stress increased the appearance of dark circles, while rest and healthy lifestyle habits decreased discoloration,” she says. “Wearing UV protection sunglasses that cover around the eyes and wearing sunscreen also help prevent or reduce dark circles.” In addition to lifestyle changes, Laurie also recommends skincare products with antioxidants, such as vitamin E and vitamin C. Laser therapy, fillers and surgery can also help treat and prevent dark circles.

Lotion in hand

“Face creams and under the eye products that contain antioxidants (such as vitamin E and vitamin C) may help reduce the appearance of dark circles,” says Laurie Hays of Facial Rejuvenation Center.

You only get one body — so listen to what it’s telling you, and when appropriate, seek professional care as needed. Cheers to good health!


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