You’re losing weight
Of course this doesn’t apply if you’ve started a new diet or exercise program. But “if you’re not trying to lose weight and you’re losing more than five pounds without any effort then you need to see a doctor,” says Dr. Bhatia. “The five-pound rule is a pretty safe guide—almost everyone I know fluctuates that amount—but if you’re having progressive steady weight loss, that’s something bigger and needs to be seen.”
You can blame weight loss on all sorts of disorders—from stress and chronic illness, to digestive disorders and infections, to chronic anemia and cancer, says Dr. Bhatia. See a doctor if you’ve lost more than 10 pounds (or 5 percent of your normal body weight) over a span of six to 12 months or less, and you don’t know why.
You’re gaining weight
Just like unexplained weight loss, unexplained weight gain is also something to see a doctor about. “Many people will dismiss it,” says Dr. Bhatia. “They think they can get a handle on it and before they know it 10 pounds has turned into 20 has turned into 30.”
It could be a sign of an underactive thyroid, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or Cushing’s syndrome. Did you start a new medication? Lots of drugs—like corticosteroids, birth control pills, diabetes meds, and some drugs used to treat bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression—can cause you to gain weight. “If you see your doctor at the 10- or 12-pound mark, it’s much easier to reverse it,” says Dr. Bhatia.
You have a low libido
If you never feel like getting frisky between the sheets, you might want to talk to a healthcare provider about it. You wouldn’t be the first. “It’s a common complaint I get from women, but it’s increasingly common in men,” says Dr. Bhatia. “Women are overwhelmed and exhausted, and since libido is tied into emotions, we see libido go down if there’s a disconnect from themselves or their partners.”
As for men, Dr. Bhatia blames what she calls “the estrogenization of men,” which happens when there’s “a convergence of high stress, very poor lifestyle habits, and weight gain,” she says. As a result, “it’s almost like men are dropping their testosterone level faster than they did in the past and that’s affecting their libido.”
Having a low libido can be totally normal, but it can also be caused by a hormone imbalance, depression, or certain medications.
You’re losing a lot of hair
Shedding between 50 and 100 strands of hair per day is normal, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. But if you’re losing more than that, “you should call your doctor,” says Dr. Wu.
“Hair loss can be a normal consequence of aging, heredity—especially for men—or hormone changes, but it can also result from medical conditions,” he says. Those include “scalp infections, thyroid disorders, immune disorders, and sudden traumatic events. Certain medicines can cause hair loss including some for cancer, arthritis, high blood pressure, or heart disease.”
You’re not regular
If you’re eating a high-fiber diet and drinking a lot of water, and you’re not pooping regularly, take note. “The digestive system needs to empty to reset for other things and when it doesn’t there’s a shift in bacteria that then drives inflammation, which leads to chronic disease,” says Dr. Bhatia. “So the gut is ground zero for health.”
Of course, “regular” means different things to different people—the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases defines constipation as fewer than three bowel movements a week—so a change in pattern is what matters. “Chronic constipation or trouble emptying could be a sign of colon issues, thyroid disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, hormone imbalance in women, autoimmune disease—the list is pretty long,” says Dr. Bhatia. “If you go three or four weeks without having a bowel movement, you need to talk to your doctor.”