Many of my patients tell me that they don’t know when they need to call me and when to deal with a health problem themselves. Sometimes they wait until it passes and they feel better; at other times they call me like this patient did, their voices filled with anxiety and confusion. They also want to know what their symptoms mean so they’ll know exactly what is wrong with them and what they can do about it. However, as my experience with my 50-something patient showed, many men and women are unable to articulate the signals their bodies are sending them due to fear, embarrassment, and the physiological changes that normally occur with age. In addition, the symptoms don’t necessarily match what they’ve heard about or have seen on television and in the media, which could add to their hesitation. Of course, in an emergency situation, the ability to describe your symptoms accurately can become a matter of life or death. In some cases, however, we immediately know what a series of particular symptoms means: for instance, many of us are familiar with the signs of a stroke, and diabetics are taught about how their bodies will react if they get too much or too little insulin.
The main reason I wrote this book is to help men and women in midlife learn how to interpret the signals their bodies are sending them, their Body Signals. When I talk about a Body Signal, I am referring to a symptom, a sign your body is sending you to let you know when something is wrong. Midlife adults especially need to heed their Body Signals because frequently the symptoms in a person who’s 50 may indicate a totally different problem than for someone in her 20s. For example, in a 25-year-old, a sore throat is usually just a sore throat. In someone who’s 40 or older, however, it could be a sign of a hiatal hernia, a condition causing a reflux of stomach acid. Obviously, the treatment for each problem would differ dramatically. In addition, men and women who are just entering their 40s may find that their bodies are changing in ways they don’t expect. Usually, these changes are not as drastic as those that occur during puberty; they’re more subtle and so can be more frustrating because people don’t know what’s happening. In fact, many people confuse these changes with signs of disease. For this reason, many of my midlife patients frequently tell me that they don’t feel quite right but can’t articulate how they feel. Because of this, I’ve addressed many of these signs of aging in this book as Body Signals. Finally, there are many illnesses common to midlife adults that a person in her 20s never has to worry about, like gastrointestinal cancer and heart disease.
Being able to describe your Body Signals accurately is important, since 95% of all diagnoses are made through how a patient is able to describe his symptoms. Based on your descriptions, your physician will be able to plan the course of treatment that’s best for you.