Dream interpretation has long been used to help people resolve troubling psychological issues.

But few people realize that dreams also can foretell health problems weeks to months before symptoms develop.

Landmark study: Vasily Kasatkin, a psychiatrist at the Leningrad Neurosurgical Institute, analyzed 10,240 dreams from 1,200 patients over a 40-year period. He concluded that illnesses, ranging from tooth infections to brain tumors, often caused distressing dreams that preceded the first symptoms.

Dreams related to health issues are typically recurring—and may include an intense physical sensation in the dream and/or pain or discomfort that lingers after awakening.

Most common health-related dreams and what they may mean...


Dreams: In one version, a part of your body might get stabbed. On another night, that same body part might get branded with a hot iron. In yet a third dream, that part of your body may be shot. Although the method of injury may change, the body part you dream about remains the same.

What it means: You may be developing a health problem in that part of your body.

What to do: If the dream is a recurring one about a particular part of your body, ask your doctor for an exam.


Dreams: You eat food that is spoiled or has bugs all over it.

What it means: You may be overindulging in "junk food" or developing a problem involving digestion.

What to do: Ask yourself if you're under excessive stress. If so, try to change the stressful situation or take better care of yourself by getting more rest, eating a healthful diet and exercising.


Dreams: Your pet, former pet or a stray has become ill or suffered a violent injury.

What it means: Our pets are dream symbols of ourselves. This dream often means that some part of you is suffering. People who are in abusive relationships often have this dream. It also can mean that you have been abusing your own body by neglecting your health.

What to do: If you are in an abusive relationship, seek help from the authorities and/or a mental health professional. If you are not, take stock of your lifestyle and see if there is a way for you to improve your diet and/or get more exercise.


Dreams: The floor in your house is collapsing, most commonly due to termites. Or perhaps the walls are crumbling. Or the stairs can't hold your weight.

What it means: Something is giving way or losing ground in your life, or you have a chronic health condition that might be worsening. For example, a woman with scoliosis (curvature of the spine) dreamed of a problem with a spiral staircase in her house at a time when her back was flaring up and needed adjustment.

What to do: Ask your doctor what therapies may be available for your condition. For example, people with chronic ailments often think that they must live with them. In some cases, there are treatments to relieve your symptoms.


Dreams: You go to the doctor and are told that you have cancer and have only a short time to live.

What it means: This is a very common dream, and it does not necessarily mean that you have cancer. It almost always means that you simply are overextending yourself and are anxious about it.

What to do: Reflect on what is causing anxiety in your life. If you're overloaded, delegate as much as you can to others. If you suspect cancer or have a family history of the disease, see your doctor.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in