What Doctors Can Tell About Your Health Just By Looking At You


Six doctors share what they can tell about your physical health from your appearance. (Photo: Getty Images)

While some health conditions are silent and symptom-free — high blood pressure is a notorious one, for instance — there is still a lot that doctors can tell about your health just from your appearance. The appearance of your skin, eyes, and even tongue can serve as dead giveaways that not all is right in the body.

We asked six top docs to explain some telltale physical signs of poor health. Do you have any of these? 

The color of a person’s tongue can be indicative of his or her health. (Photo: Getty Images)

“The color of someone’s skin, the look in their eyes and the consistency of their tongue. A pale and sallow skin color is a sign of a patient not looking well — a sort of dullness to their look. A tongue that is moist and bright pink is healthy. If it has a lot of thick coating or is a purple color or is boggy with scallops on the side or very dry, those are signs of some imbalance in the system.”

- Frank Lipman, MD, integrative and functional medicine expert and author of The New Health Rules


Changes in skin consistency can correspond to heart health. (Photo: Getty Images)

There are many overt signs of illness: changes in turgor [elasticity] or consistency of the skin that can show maladies of the heart; changes in skin color that can be indicative of liver disease; and lips, mouth, and tongue can be indicative of nutrition deficiencies. To some extent, it becomes almost intuitive to clinicians after many years of looking at patients.”

- David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and author of Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well

Related: The Weirdest Things Doctors Get Asked


Abdominal obesity can be measured via waist circumference, or via waist-to-hip ratio. (Photo: Flickr/FBellon)

“Abdominal obesity is pretty obvious. A colleague suggested that this is defined by a patient whose waist precedes him or her into the exam room.”

- Steven Nissen, MD, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic


A big tongue and big tonsils can be linked with sleep apnea. (Photo: Getty Images)

“I can look inside someone’s throat and tell you that they’ve got sleep apnea: big tonsils, extra tissue, big tongue. These are anatomic landmarks that we know are consistent with sleep apnea. Also, the majority of people who are obese have sleep apnea.”

- Michael Breus, PhD, sleep expert and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep

Related: 10 Things Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Nutrition


Your hair can reveal a lot about diet. (Photo: Flickr/thesnowmangirl

“Hair that is thinning, looks drab, and doesn’t have any shine — that’s a sign things aren’t going so well inside. Most of the time it’s diet, such as people on these restricted diets who aren’t getting enough protein or water. Sometimes it’s a hormonal problem, such as thyroid disease.”

- Hilda Hutcherson, MD, gynecologist and associate dean of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and author of What Your Mother Never Told You About S-E-X


Eyes are truly the windows to health. (Photo: Flickr/Vladimer Shioshvili)

By looking at a patient’s eyes, you can tell if they have certain types of liver disease in terms of jaundice. By looking at their palms, you can see who’s drinking too many carrot drinks and getting too much beta-carotene (carotenemia); the palms turn yellow but not the rest of the skin. I can look at someone’s face and know if they’re in pain by the muscle tension, particularly around the eyes. I can get a general idea of health by the pallor of the facial skin and a sense of dehydration by the lack of firmness in the skin. You can also tell who has had a very bad sunburn in life, which sets them up for melanoma: a shotgun pattern of moles.”

- Neal Schultz, MD, New York City-based dermatologist and founder of DermTv.com and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz

Up Next: 8 Things You Should NEVER Hide From Your Doctor