All right, so bodily fluids aren’t the absolute sexiest topic of conversation. You might even take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to all bodily secretions and excretions.
But they can sometimes clue you in on health issues lurking beneath the surface. We dive into four of them — sweat, blood, snot and urine — to decode whether you’re healthy or if your body is trying to tell you something.
1. Through Salty or Sudden Sweating
Think of a warm day that makes sweat seep through the back of your shirt or a hot yoga class that has you toweling off every few minutes. It seems like an annoyance, but it’s actually physiology magic at work.
“Sweating is really a mechanism to cool your body down,” says Felicia Stoler, doctor of clinical nutrition and consultant in wellness and healthy living. Those beads of sweat are made up of 99 percent water (the other 1 percent could be urea, vitamin C, lactic acid or ammonia). And while you may think of it as liquid stink, sweat is completely odorless until it comes into contact with bacteria.
Some people sweat more than others — whether they’re overheated or stressed — and some emit more sodium in their sweat, but neither is a dead giveaway that there’s something wrong, Stoler says.
That said, salty sweaters should make an extra effort to replenish sodium levels after exercising. (Hint: This is you if your workout clothes have white salt stains on them.) Following up every long sweat session with a serving of mixed nuts, pickles or a sports drink should do the trick.
Sweating during exercise is normal, of course, but suddenly breaking out in sweat could be a sign of something more serious — such as a heart attack, cancer or a metabolic issue — and should be followed up with a doctor’s visit.
Read more: 6 Ways to Reduce Your Heart Attack Risk
2. With Lots of Bleeding
The red lifeline flowing through your veins makes up seven to eight 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.
Hemoglobin levels that are too low — less than 13.5 grams per deciliter for men and 12 for women — could mean you’re anemic. You’ll need to undergo a blood test to know for sure, but feeling weak, dizzy and short of breath are signs it’s time to get tested.
Another number to watch is your blood pressure. The top number, which measures the pressure put on the arteries each time your heart beats, should never exceed 120. The bottom number, which measures the pressure inside the arteries when they’re at rest, should always be less than 80.
Anything higher than those thresholds qualifies as prehypertension or high blood pressure, which is the case for one in three Americans. Elevated blood pressure could take a toll on your heart health and lead to cardiovascular, cardiac or vascular disease.
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. It could be the result of taking aspirin or anticoagulants, Stoler says.
Or it could be a symptom of leukemia, which your doctor can determine with a blood test. “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, she says, it’s one of those things that you’ll simply know when it’s a problem and time to visit a doctor or emergency room.
Read more: Why You Should Be Tracking Your Vital Signs
3. The Color of Your Snot
Your nose linings produce an incredible liter or more of mucus every day. It sounds gross, but that snot acts as a protective barrier, filtering the air you breathe. It can come in nearly every shade, from clear to green, depending on how healthy you are.
When you’re first infected with cold-causing germs, your snot will be clear and plentiful as your body attempts to get rid of them. Two or three days later the mucus might turn white or yellow. That’s a good thing: It means your immune system is at work.
If you’re not able to sneeze away all of the bacteria, your immune system goes into overdrive — the snot could then become green. Staring down at a green, snot-filled tissue is unsettling, but it’s no reason to race to get antibiotics. The green color is the result of your white blood cells being activated, which causes them to release an iron-rich enzyme called myeloperoxidase.
Your best bet is to wait out the cold because antibiotics can’t treat viral infections like the common cold or flu. Still seeing the green stuff in your tissue after 12 days? It may be a bacterial virus called sinusitis, which your doctor can advise you about.
4. What Your Pee Looks Like
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 dark, fluorescent-yellow or orangey-red pee, which indicates you’re dehydrated, had too much vitamin C or ate red-colored foods like beets, respectively.
But some colors are more worrisome. Dark, brownish urine, for instance, 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, such as abdominal pain and sensitivity to light.
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 with other painful symptoms. No pain? It could be something more serious like bladder cancer. 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.
Pay attention to the smell of your urine too. A healthy person’s 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 that your metabolism isn’t working properly, while a musty scent might be related to liver disease.
Keep in mind that not all odors are necessarily bad news: Medication and food could cause your urine to stink temporarily. Yes, asparagus pee is real.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever noticed something you thought was unusual about your bodily fluids? Did you end up seeing a doctor about it or did it clear up on its own? Were you aware of all the things your body might be trying to tell you through its fluids? What facts were surprising to you? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!