Breast cancer, hair loss, hypertension: 6 at-home self exams everyone should do

Taking care of your health starts at home. These apps and devices can help you look for signs of issues before they become serious.

Amanda Capritto
5 min read
Pregnant woman takes her blood pressure at home.

If you don't go to the doctor regularly, it might be time to start adding some easy self exams to your wellness routine. 


In a country where health care costs keep skyrocketing and busyness persists, few people see their doctors regularly enough, saving trips to the clinic for when they're already feeling unwell. If we can't muster up the time, energy or funds to visit our doctors for regular check-ups, we can at least take prevention into our own hands. 

In less time than it takes to post a Facebook status, your heart, hair, gums and more can tell you if something's amiss. Here's how to complete and interpret five potentially life-saving self exams. 

Read more: This is what it's like inside the doctor's office of the future 

1. Heart


The Kardia Mobile takes your ECG via small finger pads, which you can attach to the back of your iPhone.


Your heart rate, or pulse, is a top indicator of your fitness level, but it can also be a valuable indicator of your overall health. Regularly measuring your resting heart rate can help you detect complications like atrial fibrillation, or abnormal heart rate.

What you want to feel: a resting heart rate between 60-90 beats per minute (bpm).

If you feel: anything slower or faster, try to think of reasons why. For example, if you feel your heart rate rising when you think about work, check in with yourself about stress levels. 

If you feel a resting heart rate above 100 bpm, you should contact a doctor right away, as a high resting heart rate could be a sign of heart disease or hypertension.

Tools to help: Most fitness watches and activity trackers measure your heart rate throughout the day, and the built-in EKG app on Apple Watch 4 checks for atrial fibrillation automatically. 

If you have a history of heart health complications, you may consider purchasing an additional safety net like the KardiaMobile, which measures tachycardia (heart rate higher than 120 bpm) and bradycardia (heart rate slower than 40 bpm). 

2. Blood pressure

You're probably familiar with the tight squeeze of the cuff your doctor wraps around your arm at every visit. Your doctor is looking for your blood pressure, a vital measurement that can be a sign of heart disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome and other health complications.

You don't have to wait to see the doctor to take your blood pressure, you can do it at home. That's especially a good idea if you have hypertension, or if you get nervous at the doctor and that causes your otherwise healthy blood pressure to spike.

What you want to see: A blood pressure less than 120/80 mmHg. 

If you see: Anything higher, don't panic right away. Try testing again. If your blood pressure readings consistently come back higher than 120/80 mmHg, contact your doctor to discuss prehypertension and hypertension. 

Tools to help: Sure, you could go old-school and measure your blood pressure with a manual sphygmomanometer. But you can choose from an array of wireless at-home blood pressure monitors that give you easy-to-read measurements and track your readings over time. 

3. Hair 


The Hair Journal app allows you to take photographs and track your hair over time, so you notice any changes that might indicate an underlying health problem.

Hair Journal on the App Store

It's normal to experience changes in your hair, especially as you age, but some changes could indicate a real problem. There's no hard-and-fast rule on how often you should check your hair, but doing a self-exam every few months definitely can't hurt. 

What you want to see: Little, if any, sudden change in your hair density (the number of hairs on your head); no excess shedding; and smooth skin on your scalp. 

If you see: An unusual amount of hair on your brush or in the shower, or changes in the appearance of your scalp, check in with a doctor. Drastic changes in hair density can be indicative of conditions such as anemia and thyroid disease

Bumpiness, redness, scaliness or flakiness on your scalp may indicate a range of skin conditions or infections. Sudden hair thinning and scalp flakiness can also be signs of high stress. 

Tools to help: Try out a free app like Hair Journal, which allows you to photograph and document your hair over time. 

4. Skin


Apps like SkinVision can help with early detection of skin cancer. 


The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a monthly self skin check for everyone, regardless of skin type and cancer risk. It's a 10-minute procedure that could alert you to one of the prevalent forms of cancer — here's a step-by-step guide to learn how.  

What you want to see: No changes in the symmetry, border, color or diameter of a mole; no sudden or unexplained patches of roughness or discoloration. 

If you see: Sudden changes in any freckles or moles; new moles, marks or growths; or unexplained patches of dry, rough, flaky, red, shiny or scaly skin, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to get a professional's opinion.

Tools to help: Try an app to help document changes in your skin and identify suspicious moles. Also, this one app could help you protect yourself against skin cancer in the first place. 

5. Breasts


Check Yourself! reminds you when it's time to do your monthly self breast exam and gives you tips on how to properly complete the exam. 

Check Yourself! on the App Store

The National Breast Cancer Foundation, along with most health institutions, recommends that everyone self-check their breasts once a month. Yes, even men, because men can get breast cancer, too

What you want to feel: Smoothness throughout your breast tissue in multiple positions — test while standing up and while lying down.

If you feel: Any changes or lumps in your breasts, don't panic. Often, there's a benign cause behind breast changes. However, you should make an appointment with your doctor for further evaluation, if just for peace of mind. Your doctor may order additional tests if anything seems suspicious.

Tools to help: If you have trouble remembering to complete your self-exam, try out an app like Check Yourself! on which you can create a personalized routine and approach to the breast cancer self-check. 

6. Gums


Mint, a small device from Breathometer, measures volatile sulfur compounds in your breath to detect gum disease. 


Gingivitis and periodontitis, or gum disease, has been linked to other health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, respiratory infections and even cancer. Scientists aren't yet sure exactly why that is, but think it has to do with inflammation, which is an underlying factor in most diseases. 

What you want to see: Smooth, pink gums that aren't inflamed or bleeding; fresh breath

If you see: Bleeding or receding gums; patches of discoloration; pockets or holes in between teeth; or unexplained foul breath (e.g., you didn't just eat), make an appointment to see your dentist. These could be signs of gingivitis or periodontitis. 

Tools to help: Mint from Breathometer analyzes your breath to check for "volatile sulfur compounds," an indicator of periodontitis. It's companion app provides feedback to help you create better oral health routines. You might also benefit from an electric toothbrush over a manual one. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.