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Listen to your body for warning signs

September 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
We all know about the typical warning signs of disease. Lumps in the breast could mean breast cancer. A dark spot on your skin may mean melanoma. That spare tire around your mid-section could put you at risk for heart disease. But other not so obvious changes in the body could also be signaling something more serious. After traveling the world with his wife, Les Duncan thought he had a clean bill of health.

"We traveled in Germany and in Switzerland," said Duncan.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

"I had an excruciating headache," said Les. "I was more nauseous than I've ever been in my entire life."

His doctor at the time said nothing was wrong, but Les knew better.

"I think the biggest mistake people make is not listening to their body," said Duncan.

Some of the body signs could be signaling a bigger issue.

What does it mean if all of a sudden you go gray? It could mean thyroid disease or vitamin B-12 deficiency.

What about varicose veins?

Varicose veins put you at a higher risk for a potentially fatal blood clot or deep vein thrombosis.

Warning signs of diabetes are bleeding gums, tingling feet or a rash.

After pushing his doctors, Les found out he had a genetic condition that puts him at risk for brain hemorrhaging.

"He was very proactive about things, and he became very knowledgeable about what he had," said Dr. Jonathan White, a neurosurgeon at UT Southwestern Zale Lipshy Hospital in Dallas, Texas.

Listening to his body may be what saved his life. After his first episode, he noticed putting pressure on one side of his head made him feel better.

"When I began treatment, the doctors told me that lying on the right side of my head probably applied the pressure needed to stop the bleeding and probably save my life," said Duncan.

As a hero to himself, Les can now get back to more important things like planning his next trip.

Web Extra Information: Listen To Your Body, Save Your Life

On February 13th, 2009, Les Duncan suffered his fifth brain hemorrhage. Duncan suffers from cavernous angioma, a genetic condition that causes the blood vessels in his brain to become tangled and knotted.

These vascular malformations are what lead to the hemorrhaging. "Instead of forming in tubes, they form in caves, and they cluster like little mulberries and sometimes these bleed," Duncan explained. He discovered he had the condition at age 42 while living abroad. "I had an excruciating headache. I was more nauseous than I had ever been in my entire life," he recalled. "I was confused in terms of what my body wanted me to do. I would go to the bathroom, but I couldn't decide what I was there for."

In his book Brain Storms; Surviving Catastrophic Illness, Duncan shares his experience with others and offers advice to anyone suffering a serious illness.

THE AMAZING PATIENT:

After his more recent hemorrhage, Duncan's doctor felt sure he would require brain surgery. However, in June, after Duncan recovered from his stroke, he went in for a follow-up MRI and exam.

"His double vision was gone. His vertigo was gone, and his left side weakness was back to normal," Dr. Jonathan White, a neurosurgeon at UT Southwestern Zale Lipshy Hospital in Dallas, Tex., was quoted as saying. "More importantly, the vascular malformation that caused the bleed was gone. I reviewed his MRI and looked at his brainstem from several different angles with magnification. There was no sign of it. I told him he was amazing!"

Duncan also credits listening to his body with saving his life. "I think the biggest mistake people make is not listening to their body when they get really sick," Duncan explained. "I think too many people think, 'Oh, it's nothing. It will go away.' Early detection and treatment is extremely important." Duncan says every time he's had a brain hemorrhage, he's craved green vegetables like asparagus, broccoli and spinach. "My research, after the fact, has told me those are all rich in vitamin K, and vitamin K promotes the clotting of the blood," he pointed out.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY:

In 1990, before his condition had been identified, Duncan noticed that when he would lie on the right side of his head, his symptoms got better. When he would lie on the left or backside of his head, his symptoms got worse. Later, his doctor told him lying on the right side of his head probably applied the pressure needed to stop the bleeding and most likely saved his life or at the very least kept him from being severely, permanently handicapped. "It's important to listen to your body, and in my case, it saved by life," Duncan said.

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