You surely know the old horror movie cliché: The murderer calls his victim to taunt her, and she soon realizes the call is coming from inside the house! A home invasion is everyone's worst nightmare. What's scarier than that: A silent killer hiding inside your body.
Lurking inside all of us could be something seriously wrong, a hidden health danger that's camouflaged, masquerading as a more benign condition or not revealing itself at all. Could you have one? This special guide shines a light on some of the sneakiest conditions out there, from minor maladies to the serious stuff. Read on to see if, next time, the call coming from your house should be to the doctor.
Although it's the most common sexually-transmitted infection, herpes sure is shy. Most people with the virus have no symptoms at all—but they're still contagious. That's why is spreads so easily. (A strain called HSV1 is typically the herpes that causes cold sores, and HSV2 typically causes genital sores….but the downstairs version can cause sores upstairs, and vice versa.)
About 12 percent of Americans have genital herpes, though the number could be higher since so many of those infected have no symptoms. Annually, about 776,000 people in the United States will get a new genital herpes infection.
So what can you do? While there's no cure, antiviral medications can prevent or shorten outbreaks. These medicines can also reduce the likelihood of transmission to partners. Also, look for signs of symptoms, which include small blisters and raw red spots around your genitals or anal region, often accompanied by itching or tingling.
Recommendation: Smart sex is safe sex. While the only way to avoid sexually transmitted infections is not to have sex at all, using latex condoms the right way every time you have sex can go a long way to keeping you and your partners safe.
Low Vitamin-D Levels
Vital for maintaining healthy bones, vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption, which is why low levels can lead to increased risk of osteoporosis and weak bones. It's estimated that at least 40 percent of American adults are deficient in vitamin D and many might not even know it. Under 30 ng/mL is considered low, whereas under 20 ng/mL is deficient.
Recommendation: The most natural and efficient way for your body to make vitamin D is via sunshine-on-skin, though taking supplements can help, too. According to the Vitamin Council, Vitamin D3 is the best form of vitamin D supplementation to take.
High Blood Pressure
Hypertension affects nearly one in every three American adults—but one in five do not know it. It's often called the "silent killer" because there are no symptoms. Here's why this matters: high blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke—and only about half have it under control. With numbers this high, it's likely that you or your mother, brother, or friend could have it too. What to do? Don't wait until your next check-up to find out what your numbers are; get a reading done at a pharmacy or buy a monitor to use at home.
Recommendation: Write down your blood pressure numbers so that you can get a feel for your average. Our blood pressure naturally fluctuates, so this way you can see where you are. You're shooting for 120/80.
In the glory of tranquil summer days and long-awaited vacation, there's a miniscule foe that's causing massive concern—bloodsucking, disease-spreading ticks. Blacklegged deer ticks infected with Lyme disease are making mayhem in the northeast, mid-Atlantic, northern central states, and West Coast, especially more temperate northern California. While approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected people develop a tell-tale "bullseye" rash, 20 to 30 percent do not—making detection all the more challenging. (Yolanda Hadid, a former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star, called her book Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisible Disability of Lyme Disease.)
According to the Centers for Disease Control, other early symptoms may include fever, headache, and fatigue. If diagnosed and treated early with antibiotics, Lyme can almost always be cured. If Lyme is not caught early, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
Recommendation: Tick bite prevention is the name of the game:
Use insect repellents with DEET, permethrin, or picaridin.
Wear light-colored clothing that fully covers your arms and legs.
Tuck your pant legs into your socks.
Avoid tick-infested areas.
Be sure to check yourself, your children, and your pets daily for ticks—and (very) carefully remove any you might find.
A slumbering health threat that can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular damage, and diabetes, sleep apnea is often misdiagnosed. In fact, a recent study found that 83 percent of postmenopausal women with insomnia actually have sleep apnea. This sleep disorder is characterized by breathing that repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly (think: buzzsaw) and feel fatigued even after a full night's sleep, you might have sleep apnea.
Recommendation: Ask your doctor for a sleep study if you frequently wake at night, have trouble falling asleep, feel depressed, and unexplainably exhausted during the day. Sleep studies aid the diagnosis of sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy. Be proactive about your sleep health; it's vital for your wellbeing.
You've heard of osteoporosis, a Greek word which means porous bones––a potentially dangerous health condition that decreases bone strength and increases risk of fracture. This "silent disease" is symptomless, weakening your bones without you knowing until a fracture occurs. And sometimes, even a fracture can happen without you being aware of it––only a third of vertebral fractures are actually clinically diagnosed, which is why getting tested for this disease is so crucial, especially if you are a woman. The chances of developing osteoporosis increase when a woman reaches menopause.
"When we get older we don't bounce anymore, we break," Dr. Joseph Feuerstein, Director of Integrative Medicine at Stamford Hospital, and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University, tells Eat This, Not That! Health. Prevention packs a powerful punch. Start early to best keep bone loss at bay.
Recommendation: The best way to impact your bone health is by getting enough vitamin D, and calcium, says Harvard Medical School. Another smart move? Get moving. Weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging, or jumping rope are also bone strengthening!
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low on the front of your neck. Its primary role is to regulate your metabolism. With an underactive thyroid, you're not producing enough thyroid hormone for your body to function well. But hypothyroidism warning signs are notoriously sneaky, with common symptoms like fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and overall sluggishness being easy to miss as they're subtle and can be explained by other things.
Dr. Feuerstein takes it a step further by screening for subclinical hypothyroidism––which is when your "levels are still in a normal range, but your thyroid is struggling to keep up." He says: "The way we see that is in elevated levels of TSH—thyroid stimulating hormone—produced in your brain's pituitary gland. Levels of TSH start to go up and up, a sign that your body is compensating for the thyroid that's not working properly."
Getting tested matters: Low thyroid can lead to weight gain, cardiovascular disease, fertility issues, depression, and more. Ask your doctor if you might have subclinical or standard hypothyroidism.
Recommendation: One person out of every 20 has hypothyroidism in the USA, which is why getting lab results is so important, especially if you have a family history of thyroid conditions. If you're found to be low, it can be remedied easily with medication!
The stats are eye-popping enough to spike your heart rate, if not your blood sugar: According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes—and up to a third do not even know it. Ninety to 95 percent of these cases are type 2 diabetes, which is linked to being overweight. Diabetes often develops gradually, as insulin production in the pancreas slows. You could have the disease for years and not know—which can spell danger for your eyes, heart, kidneys, and nervous system. If you have a family history of diabetes—make sure to get checked for the first time by age 45, especially if you're overweight.
Recommendation: Much of this is reversible with diet and lifestyle changes. Following a low carb or ketogenic diet is very helpful for managing type 2 diabetes. Check out The 50 Best Foods for Diabetes for some healthy eating inspiration.
"Younger women, many are anemic, and they have no clue about it. And it's so easy to treat—but you need to know you have it," shared Dr. Feuerstein. "I had one patient that came to see me because she was losing her hair and felt a bit fatigued. She came for hair loss and found out she was anemic."
Feeling tired or weak? Have heavy or frequent periods? It could be anemia, a condition where you don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen to your body's tissues, making you feel tired and weak. At first, anemia can be so slight that it goes unnoticed––but symptoms become more pronounced as anemia worsens.
Recommendation: Eating healthy foods can help you avoid both iron-and vitamin-deficiency anemia. Foods to eat include those with:
High levels of iron: dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, raw nuts, beef
Vitamin B-12: meat and dairy
Folic acid: more dark green leafy vegetables, citrus juices, legumes, and fortified cereals
Your doctor can also easily check for anemia with a blood test that looks at complete blood count.
Too much is no good: whether it's due to unhealthy diet or bum genes, high levels of "bad" or LDL cholesterol can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. Those with high cholesterol have nearly twice the risk of cardiovascular disease as those with lower levels. This silent stalker can only be detected by a blood test, so make sure to have labs done every five years if your levels are normal, more often if they're not. If your blood work comes back showing high cholesterol, your doctor will probably recommend exercise and diet changes as the first course of treatment. If lifestyle changes aren't enough, you may be prescribed a medication like Lipitor that blocks the enzymes needed to produce cholesterol.
Recommendation: Living your best heart-healthy life can be simple with these 8 Easy Hacks to Lower Your Cholesterol in 10 Seconds.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Characterized by long intervals between periods, PCOS is a hormonal disorder that is common among women, which prevents ovulation. It is frequently missed in younger women because their menstrual cycles are not regular yet. Many women, in fact, don't notice an issue until they're trying to conceive–and can't. Besides fertility challenges, PCOS can lead to ovarian cysts, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and diabetes, among other things. Some tell-tale hormonal symptoms for some include hirsutism (yup, abnormal hair growth on your face and body) and acne.
Recommendation: PCOS signs and symptoms are often more severe if you're obese—but losing weight can help. Eating a plant-based diet is a great way to get more nutrition and shed pounds. Check out these 15 Easy Ways to Transition to a More Plant-Based Diet for some delicious inside tips.
Fibromyalgia is hard for the pros to pinpoint—in fact, it's one of the 20 Diseases Doctors Frequently Misdiagnose—yet the symptoms aren't hard to feel: widespread chronic pain from head to little toe. Regular bodily sensations become interpreted as pain because the brain's pain receptors become more sensitive, and overreact to pain signals. Yet there's no test for the disorder, so doctors are only able to reach a diagnosis by excluding other possible diseases—which means it can take years to learn what the problem is.
Fibromyalgia affects more than 3.7 million Americans—mostly women between the ages of 40 and 75—but men, young women, and children can also be affected. Many people with this condition also have irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, and tension headaches, anxiety, and depression—and often awaken tired, even though they slept for a long time. There's no cure for fibromyalgia, but there's several medications and lifestyle tactics that help
Recommendation: If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor to see if you might have fibromyalgia. If you are diagnosed, you can take the following steps to live your best life:
Get enough sleep: aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day.
Don't drink caffeine, alcohol, or eat spicy meals before bedtime
Get regular physical activity
With celiac disease, your body reacts negatively to gluten protein—found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye—and attacks the lining of your small intestine, eventually damaging your body's ability to absorb nutrients properly. For some, with this potentially severe condition, gastrointestinal symptoms are impossible to ignore, like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain. Others may not notice significant digestive symptoms, but have other complaints like irritability, depression, or fatigue. And some have no symptoms at all.
These differences make celiac disease very difficult to diagnose, a whopping 83 percent of people with celiac disease go undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed) with other conditions. If left untreated, complications can develop from malnutrition, osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, and some cancers. Ss awareness of the disease grows, more people are being correctly diagnosed.
Recommendation: The cure for celiac disease? Adherence to a strict gluten-free diet. When we say strict we mean it: ingesting even tiny amounts of gluten, like crumbs from a toaster, can trigger small intestine damage. But the good news is that going G.F. has gotten tasty, thanks to the popularity of the keto diet. Even road trips can be fun–check out The Ultimate Guide to the Best Gluten-Free Fast Food Menu Items!
Stomach cancer and H.Pylori infection
Heliobacter pylori, or H.pylori, is a type of bacteria that you can pick up from food, water, or utensils—and it's more common in places that lack clean water or good sewage systems. Once yours, it can live in your digestive tract, and you'll feel no pain. But at some point, after many years, they can cause sores or ulcers to develop. And for some, an infection can lead to stomach cancer.
Two-thirds of the world's population have an H.pylori infection, and about 30 to 40 percent of Americans will get it.
Recommendation: Prevention is possible. Since H. pylori likely spreads via unclean food and water, you can help keep yourself safe by:
Washing your hands before you eat and after you go to the bathroom
Eating properly prepared food
Drinking water from a clean, reliable source
For most people, it doesn't lead to ulcers or any other symptoms, but if you do have symptoms, some medicines can kill the bacteria and help ulcers heal.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency
A vitamin B12 deficiency is arguably the most common nutritional deficiency in the USA, affecting up to 39 percent of the population, according to a recent study. Vegans are particularly hard hit since they don't consume meat or dairy (the primary sources of B12). Symptoms can be sneaky, as B vitamins have multiple functions in the body, ranging from energy metabolism, nerve function, and the creation of mood-governing neurotransmitters. In fact "research shows that those that are deficient are more likely to have mood disorders," reports Dr. Feuerstein.
He adds that "B12 deficiency, a classic condition in the elderly, is a reversible cause of dementia; before a doctor jumps to an Alzheimer's diagnosis, make sure to check B12 levels. Granny could be deficient because she's only eating tea and cookies."
Recommendation: For most people, B12 deficiency can be prevented. If you're a strict vegan or vegetarian, make sure to eat bread, grains, and cereals fortified with B12, and consider taking a daily vitamin supplement that contains vitamin B12. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.