Women's Health: 10 Self Checks to Do Before Breakfast

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If skin flakes have suddenly made your shoulders look like the Alps in February, it could be due to your to-do list. "An intense load of stress causes your body to produce excess amounts of the hormone cortisol," Ostad says. "In addition to wreaking havoc on your immune system (making you more vulnerable to colds) and your metabolism (making you pack on pounds), cortisol can also dry out your scalp." A drugstore dandruff shampoo will deflake your locks, but unless you want a permanent case of shoulder snow, try to get more sleep, breathe more deeply, and loosen up your overpacked schedule.

Your Belly

If you see thick, dark hair (or stubble) in a diamond shape

Is that forest sprouting on your abs thick enough to hide a family of hobbits? Dense, coarse hair that extends up toward your belly button (rather than growing downward from the top of the pubic bone) could be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), says Pamela Berens, M.D., an ob-gyn at the University of Texas Medical School. Caused by overproduction of androgens, the condition can lead to irregular or heavy periods, weight gain, acne, and thick, dark hair on the belly, face, chest, and back. As many as one in 10 women have PCOS, which can be a risk factor for serious problems like infertility and heart disease. If you have symptoms, see your ob-gyn; she might prescribe birth control pills to get your hormones back in check.

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Your Tongue

If you see a white, yellow, or orange coating

If your licker looks as if someone painted it with bright-colored gunk, you could be spilling your gut in your sleep, Fryhofer says. Normally, a one-way valve at the bottom of the esophagus makes sure that whatever goes down doesn't come back up. Acid reflux occurs when this valve opens spontaneously and the contents of your stomach make a break for your throat, leaving your tongue coated in digestive acids and you with a serious case of Godzilla breath. Most reflux can be treated with OTC antacids or simply by avoiding acidic and spicy foods; if those measures don't work, see your doctor. You may need prescription meds to reduce your body's production of stomach acid.

Your Eyes

If you see undereye circles that won't go away

Unless you've taken a second job at the midnight trucking radio network, a sudden onset of dark rings could be chalked up to allergies. The chain reaction, according to Ostad, goes like this: An allergen hits your body, which in response releases histamine; this chemical makes blood vessels swell with blood and other fluids, and voila: Dark patches show up where the skin is thinnest. A skin test can determine which allergen is causing your symptoms.

If you see a yellowish bump on your eyeball

No, you haven't developed a rare case of optic acne. Instead, a slightly raised nodule on the white of your eye is a symptom of a harmless condition called pinguecula. "It's nothing more than an overgrowth of collagen triggered by damage from sun, wind, or dust," says Traci Goldstein, an optometrist at Metropolitan Vision Correction Associates in New York City. Keep your eyes moist with lubricating drops and don shades anytime you're outdoors (make sure your specs offer 100 percent protection against UVA and UVB rays) to prevent the bump from growing larger.

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