All right, so bodily fluids aren’t the sexiest topic of conversation. You might even take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to all secretions. But knowing the signs your body is telling you something is wrong can help you stay on top of potential health issues.
Why? These fluids can sometimes clue you in on conditions lurking beneath the surface. Here, we dive into four of them — sweat, blood, snot and urine — to decode what your body is trying to tell you.
Think of the sweat seeping through the back of your shirt on a warm day or during a hot yoga class. It seems like an annoyance, but it’s actually physiology at work.
“Sweating is really a mechanism to cool your body down,” says Felicia Stoler, DCN, RDN, doctor of clinical nutrition and registered dietitian nutritionist. Those beads of sweat are made up of 99 percent water (the other 1 percent could be urea, vitamin C, lactic acid or ammonia, per the Cleveland Clinic). And while you may think of it as liquid stink, sweat is completely odorless until it comes into contact with bacteria.
Here are the cases where your sweat could indicate that something is going on with your body.
Some people sweat more than others — whether they’re overheated or stressed — and some emit more sodium in their sweat, but neither indicates that something is wrong with your body, Stoler says.
That said, salty sweaters should make an extra effort to replenish electrolytes like sodium after exercising to avoid dehydration. (Hint: This is you if your workout clothes have white salt stains on them, according to the American Council on Exercise.)
Following up every long sweat session with an electrolyte-replenishing snack should do the trick, and options include:
- Leafy greens
- Sports drinks
While sweating during exercise is typical, suddenly breaking out in a heavy sweat when you’re not working out could be a sign of something more serious. Per the Cleveland Clinic, this can happen in the event of:
- Heart attack
- Thyroid conditions
If you’re inexplicably sweating profusely, it’s best to visit your doctor to get to the bottom of your perspiration problem, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The red lifeline flowing through your veins makes up to 8 percent of your weight and has a number of critical functions. It’s responsible for taking waste away from the kidneys and liver and delivering oxygen to the rest of the body through hemoglobin found in the red blood cells, per the American Society of Hematology (ASH).
Here are the signs your body is telling you something is wrong when it comes to your blood.
Hemoglobin levels that are too low — that’s less than 13.5 grams per deciliter for people assigned male at birth and 12 grams per deciliter for people assigned female at birth — could mean you’re anemic, according to the ASH. You’ll need to undergo a blood test to know for sure. These are signs it’s time to get tested:
- Shortness of breath
Blood That Won’t Clot
Blood that doesn’t clot easily also warns that something’s up. Say you have a nosebleed that just won’t quit or a cut on your finger that takes forever to heal. This may be the result of taking aspirin or anticoagulants, which thin your blood, Stoler says.
“There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how long it should take to clot to know if it’s an issue,” Stoler says. But if your blood is consistently slow to clott, it could be a symptom of leukemia, which your doctor can diagnose with a blood test, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Other symptoms of this cancer include:
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
High Blood Pressure
Another number to watch is your blood pressure. The top number — called your systolic blood pressure — measures the pressure put on the arteries each time your heart beats and shouldn’t exceed 120, per the American Heart Association (AHA). The bottom number — or diastolic blood pressure — measures the pressure inside the arteries when they’re at rest and should be less than 80.
Anything higher than those thresholds qualifies as high blood pressure, which affects about half of American adults, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Elevated blood pressure could take a toll on your heart health and lead to heart attack, stroke or heart disease, according to the AHA.
What Does Your Blood Pressure Reading Mean?
Your nose linings produce an incredible liter or more of mucus every day, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Though it sounds gross, that snot acts as a protective barrier, filtering the air you breathe to guard against incoming dust and bacteria.
Mucus can come in nearly every shade, depending on whether or not you’re sick. Here’s how to decode your snot.
Clear snot is the norm and typically indicates that you’re illness-free, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
White mucus, however, indicates congestion, per the Cleveland Clinic. This can happen if you have an infection or cold.
When white mucus turns yellow, that’s a sign your illness is evolving, according to the Cleveland Clinic. That yellow hue is the result of disease-fighting substances that your immune system uses to battle an infection.
If the white or yellow mucus isn’t able to flush away all of the disease-causing germs, your immune system goes into overdrive, which can turn your snot green, according to the CDC.
Pink, Red or Brown Snot
Red-tinged snot means there’s blood in your nasal passages, which could be the result of an injury, irritation or nosebleed, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And unless you accidentally inhaled something brown in color (like dirt), then dried blood is typically the cause for brown snot — and it’s usually nothing to worry about.
Black snot could indicate serious fungal infections, particularly in people with compromised immune systems, per the Cleveland Clinic. If you notice black mucus when you blow your nose, it’s best to visit your doctor.
If a cold is the culprit for your colorful snot, your best bet is to wait it out for 10 to 14 days until it runs its course. But if you’ve been staring down at a green, phlegmy tissue for longer than that, visit your doctor to see if an infection is to blame, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Pale and plentiful urine is ideal, Stoler says. But the color can range from pale to deep amber — even within the same day. You don’t have to worry about fluorescent-yellow or orangey-red pee, which indicate you’re dehydrated, had too much vitamin C or ate red-colored foods like beets, respectively.
But some colors and odors can be more worrisome and may help to tell if something is wrong, including the following.
Dark Brown Pee
Dark, brownish urine could be a sign of porphyria, a disorder that threatens the nervous system. Consider it a tip-off that it’s time to see a doctor, especially if you’re experiencing other symptoms like abdominal pain and sensitivity to light, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Blood in your urine means you could be dealing with something straightforward like a urinary tract infection or kidney stones, which generally go hand in hand, according to the NLM, with other symptoms like:
- Urgent urination
- Frequent urination
- Pain or discomfort when you pee
No pain? It could be something more serious like bladder cancer, according to the ACS. Either way, make an appointment to identify the underlying issue.
You should also visit a specialist if your pee is orange. It could indicate that your liver isn’t working properly — especially if you’ve also noticed a yellow tint to your skin and eyes, per the Mayo Clinic.
Sweet- or Musty-Smelling Pee
Pay attention to the smell of your urine, too. Pee shouldn’t give off much of a scent because it primarily consists of water. But sweet-smelling urine could be a sign of diabetes or other metabolic concerns, per the NLM. And if your urine has a musty scent, it may be a sign of liver disease, according to the NLM.
If the smell of your urine doesn’t fall into the sweet or musty categories but just smells, well, bad, then bacteria may be to blame, per the NLM. Visit your doctor if you also start experiencing the following symptoms, which may indicate an infection:
- Burning pain when you pee
- Back pain
Keep in mind that not all odors are necessarily bad news: Medication and food could cause your urine to stink temporarily, according to the NLM. In other words, yes, asparagus pee is real.
- Cleveland Clinic: “Breaking a Sweat: Why You Sweat and What It Says About Your Health”
- ACE: “Electrolytes: Understanding Replacement Options”
- American Society of Hematology: “Blood Basics”
- American Society of Hematology: “Anemia”
- American Heart Association: “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings”
- American Cancer Society: “Signs and Symptoms of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Don’t Judge Your Mucus By Its Color”
- CDC: “Common Cold”
- Cleveland Clinic: “What the Color of Your Snot Really Means”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Porphyria”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Urine – Bloody”
- American Cancer Society: “Bladder Cancer Signs and Symptoms”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Urine Odor”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Facts About Hypertension”
- Mayo Clinic: “Hay fever”
- Mayo Clinic: “Urine color”
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