Everyone should be going to the doctor regularly. How often depends on your age and risk of contracting disease, according to Dr. Clifford Medina, Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Chief of General Medicine. Talk with your doctor about setting up regular appointments. But even if you are going in regularly, things happen during the in-between time. And right now, you may simply be unable to get in to see a doctor. When you’re not at the doctor’s office, there are some self-exams you can do to catch certain health issues early:
“It is very important to check for moles or lesions that change in color, shape, or become irregular in size or start to bleed,” says Dr. Alain Michon, MD, medical director at Ottawa Skin Clinic. “If you do find one, I suggest consulting with your general practitioner for a medical assessment and skin biopsy if deemed necessary.” The Skin Cancer Foundation offers a helpful guide on how to perform a self-exam.
Yuna Rapoport, MD, MPH, the founder, and director of Manhattan Eye, a vision clinic based in New York City, suggests regularly conducting a basic evaluation of your vision at home. “To assess your vision, look at three different locations: far off in the distance, then computer distance, and up near,” she says. “If either of those is not totally clear, even after blinking several times, it may be time to get an updated (or new) pair of glasses or contacts.”
Pia Lieb DDS, suggests that after brushing and flossing, look at your teeth to see if anything looks discolored, cracked, or if a filling is lost. If anything looks concerning, you should contact your dentist. Liebs says that you also need to check your gums: “Are they swollen? Red? Bleeding when you brush? Do they hurt to the touch? This is another thing you can share with your dentist.” And check out your tongue: “Does it look extra red? Have any white spots? Unusual textures?”
If you see long horizontal bands of discoloration on the nail’s surface and you’ve been feeling fatigued lately, “These bands can be a signal that the kidneys aren’t able to filter out protein from your urine,” Ariel Ostad, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City says. This could mean you’re on your way to kidney failure and need to visit your doctor for a urine test ASAP. Yellowish, brown, or black stripes are a sign of cell damage, possibly from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, says Ostad. If you notice such stripes, call your doctor.
In addition to scheduling mammograms and screenings as recommended by your doctor, you can do a self-exam. “The person needs to know that they are feeling for something hard very hard like the knuckle of a fisted hand; and regular breast tissue feels thick like the tissue between the thumb and the index finger,” says Enchanta Jenkins, MD, MHA, who recommends people conduct a self-exam monthly. Breastcancer.org offers a detailed five-step process for conducting a self-exam of one’s breasts:
- Step 1: Look at your breasts in the mirror for any unusual swelling, dimpling, or redness.
- Step 2: Raise your arms and look for those same changes.
- Step 3: Look for fluid coming out of one or both nipples. “Discharge from the nipple or skin of the breast can be a sign of cancer,” says Jenkins.
- Step 4: Lay down and feel your breasts for any lumps. Using a few fingers of your right hand, move in a circular motion over your left breast, from top to bottom and side to side, then switch hands and breasts and repeat.
- Step 5: Feel your breasts for any lumps while standing or sitting, following the process described in Step 4.
“Remember: if you notice anything, go to the doctor,” says Jenkins. “Don’t panic but don’t delay.”