11 Things Your Doctor Can Tell Just By Looking at You

Updated: Mar. 25, 2021

A trained medical professional can tell some things about your health from a simple conversation. Here are things they look for.

What doctors can tell

Having an open, candid, and frank relationship with your physician is an integral part of leading a proactive lifestyle. But before you even open your mouth, a trained medical professional can predict many facts about the state of your health.

Male Patient And Doctor Have Consultation In Hospital Room
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Posture and body language can reflect state of being

When a patient first walks into her office, Lillie Rosenthal, MD, DO, takes a long hard look at their posture. If someone arrives with open body language and a sense of confidence in their gait, she can deduct they’re generally in a positive frame of mind. “Body language and movement, such as if a patient is shuffling their feet and slow-moving, they may have a lack of energy and may be sick or perhaps depressed,” she shares. “I observe their arms and legs and general range of motion. If they are guarded in their body movements or moving their entire body instead of just their head, that can be signal a physical or emotional problem. If they’re grimacing, facial expression tells a lot. I stay very attuned to that.”

a young man smoking a cigarette

A raspy voice may indicate a smoking habit

Your doctor (and ahem, everyone who loves you and knows you) has been encouraging you to cut out that smoking habit for years. But if you haven’t, chances are high they’ll be able to call your puff—er—bluff. Anna D. Guanche, MD, a dermatologist, explains she can tell when someone is a smoker as she gets closer to them. “They have a hoarse voice, inflamed gums and a specific cigarette smell to their breath and clothing that they themselves cannot detect,” she says. “They also often have a subtle yellowing of their nails and smoker’s lines around their lips that come from years of a repetitive motion—in this case, sucking on a cigarette.” While some of these symptoms fade, even a handful of cigarettes a week can be detectable to a trained eye—and nose.

Woman checking her breath with her hand

Bad breath could mean you have diabetes

Or that you had onion-filled tacos for lunch. Or that you’re a big fan of garlic. Or you haven’t brushed your teeth yet today. While there are plenty of reasons for a stench to linger in your mouth, board-certified cardiologist and nutrition and weight loss specialist Luiza Petre, MD, says chronic bad breath could be a sign of a health condition. “Foul breath can be found in diabetes, liver disease, reflux, bacterial gut imbalances and poor dental hygiene. A complication of diabetes, ketoacidosis can give a fruity breath odor, resulting from overproduction of ketones,” she shares. Bottom line? If something tastes off in your mouth, seek some professional attention.

woman holding her temples
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Hollow temples can indicate illness

You know how you look when you have your annual cold—puffy eyes, stuffy nose, sleepy face—but when you’re potentially facing a more serious condition, Dr. Guanche says you’ll have a different appearance. The first physical symbol that makes her raise an eyebrow is in your eyes, via a condition called “bitemporal wasting” where your temple area looks hollow or indented. Other signs that confirm her suspicion include weight loss and a sallow, pale, deflated texture of their skin. Also, due to treatments or an illness itself, they often have lost their appetite. Oftentimes, they have a gray pallor which comes from a lack of oxygenated blood due to the disease, she adds.

older woman blue eye closeup
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Yellow eyes could indicate liver disease

As one of the more serious symptoms to be aware of, doctors are always on high alert for yellowing of the skin and eyes. Dr. Guanache says one sign of liver disease is the yellowing of the whites of the eyes, which indicates early jaundice. “The liver is metabolized and it builds up in the body, lodging itself in the skin,” she explains.

eczema on hand
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Thin or sore-filled skin could represent drug use

In addition to illnesses or diseases that need to be treated and addressed, Dr. Guanche also says doctors are on high alert for signs of drug use. Usually, they first appear in a person’s skin, giving them the appearance of being emaciated. “They often have various sores and picked skin particularly on their arms. Sores can be from skin-popping, at the area where drugs are injected into the skin, or from track marks of IV drug abuse, or picked areas from the toxin buildup that comes with methamphetamine use,” she explains.

Close up picture of brown eyes from a young man
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White eyes suggest health

Even if allergy season has you reaching for your eye drops at least once or twice throughout the day, if your pretty blues (browns or greens) are generally clear, Dr. Guanche says she can tell a patient is more-or-so healthy. Especially if their attitude matches their pupils. “When someone has bright, dewy skin, clear sclera—or whites of their eyes—is alert when I am speaking to them and grasps things, and of course if they have an easy smile, clear voice tone, then they appear healthy,” she shares.

Close up of eye slightly swollen

Rings around your eyes could mean you’re sick

When you’re sporting a makeup-free look after a day of exploring in the sun, your friends might comment on how fresh-faced and flushed your cheeks are. This usually shows how relaxed and comfortable you are, but when the opposite is true, Dr. Rosenthal says it could mean there is trouble. “If there are rings under the eyes and their skin looks pale, these are important visual cues that something else may be going on internally,” she says.

Face of a young woman with rash from an allergic reaction to cosmetics, closeup.

A red face can mean hypertension

Though more common with age, Dr. Petre says issues with blood pressure may first reveal themselves in a person’s face. Or more specifically on the color in your face. “When blood pressure goes up, the body tries to lower it through vasodilation, and that gives a flushing to the face—blood translating into increased red color. Additionally, people with fluctuating blood pressure may have breakage of capillaries, enhancing the redness,” she explains.  However, skin conditions like acne and rosacea can cause skin reddening too, so see a doctor to find out for sure. (Don’t miss the 50 secrets nurses wish they could tell you.)

Man with oily skin and acne scars isolated on white background

Acne can be related to diet

While acne breakouts can be caused by plenty of internal and external factors, Dr. Petre says breakouts can sometimes suggest a poor diet, hormonal changes, or a reaction to a product or the environment. “Allergies trigger the release of histamine that has a vasodilatory effect on skin and is responsible for the red patches,” she shares. (Here’s what else your dermatologist notices about you.)

Puffy swollen eye

Puffy eyes could mean kidney disease or sluggish thyroid

Puffy eyes could mean you spent last night binge-watching romantic comedies or that pollen has taken over your front yard, but it could also be a sign that your organs are struggling. As Dr. Petre explains, puffiness around our eyes might suggest kidney disease or a sluggish thyroid. “Puffiness around the eyes suggest allergies, kidney disease, or a sluggish thyroid. Kidney disease can lead to loss of proteins, which hold the fluids in the blood vessels. When albumin is low, fluid leaks out into the tissue, therefore giving off a swollen look,” she shares. And puffy eyes are just one of the many signs of disease that are written all over your face.