Some symptoms should never be ignored - Washington Weekly
Sunday 19/08/2018 - 10:55 pm


Some symptoms should never be ignored


2017.03.27 06:17

Do you always assume the worst when it comes to your health? While certain symptoms should always be checked by your GP, how do you know when you are right to worry?

 Is it heartburn or a heart attack?

Your odds: More than 20 million people in the UK suffer indigestion every day and the problem accounts for about one in 20 visits to the GP.

Don’t think that doesn’t mean your chest pains might not be a sign of a dodgy ticker though.

“Heartburn’s often confused with a heart attack as the pain is in the same region, behind the breastbone,” says Dr Michael Peters, author of Home Doctor (£14.99, Dorling Kindersley).

Heartburn hits when the acidic contents of your stomach pass up into the gullet, causing a burning sensation.

The first step is to eat smaller meals and eat more often to stop a build-up of acid in the stomach. And if you smoke, don’t, as it reduces the strength of the valve which stops stomach acid flowing into your oesophagus.

For immediate relief take an antacid such as Gaviscon Double Action Tablets (£3.15 for 16, boots.com ) and chew gum which naturally stimulates saliva flow.

When to worry: Heart-related chest pain generally produces a feeling of pressure, accompanied by shortness of breath which radiates outwards towards the arms, shoulders and neck.

“If it lasts more than 10 minutes, call 999, and even if it fades contact your GP to get checked out,” says Dr Peters.

Is it butterflies, or IBS?

Your odds: While we’ve all suffered from nerves before a big event, IBS is a different matter altogether.

One fifth of us suffer ongoing, stomach-crunching IBS at some stage of our lives and it is most common in young adults and women.

Butterflies could well be a warning sign. “There’s a strong link between IBS and stress,” explains Professor Robin Spiller, a gastroenterologist from University Hospitals Nottingham.

“Keep a diary to see if it’s a particular event or situation which is causing the discomfort,” he says.

“The biggest trigger for IBS is food intolerances, most notably wheat, milk, cheese, citrus fruits and coffee.

“Ease the strain on your digestive system with non wheat-based fibre such as oats, pulses, fruit and ­vegetables, and do some light exercise.”

Peppermint oil capsules (£12.95 for 180, healthspan.co.uk ) were shown to help 60% of sufferers in tests.

When to worry: If you suffer ongoing stomach cramps, bloating, bouts of heartburn, flatulence, ­constipation and diarrhoea. “Even if it’s not IBS, if you suffer from any of these for more than 24 hours, your GP should know about it,” Prof Spiller says.
Is it an itch, or thrush?

Your odds: Three-quarters of us will get the fungal infection candida, (known as thrush) at some point in our lives, so don’t rule it out.

In fact, it’s always present in small quantities in the vaginal passage, skin and intestines – it’s only when ‘overgrowth’ occurs that you have to take action.

“If it only lasts for a day or two and there’s no thick, white discharge, it’s more likely to be an irritation caused by a new washing powder or soap,” assures GP Dr Dreena Kelly.

So ditch any smellies for perfume-free soaps, and use a non-bio powder.

“Thrush comes on because of hot or moist conditions, antibiotics or having sex with a partner who’s suffering,” says Dr Kelly. The good news? There are no long-term health risks and an over-the-counter anti-fungal cream such as Canesten cream (£4.49 for 20ml, ­ chemistdirect.co.uk ) can clear it up in five to six days. Also avoid man-made fibres and opt for breathable cotton. And get your partner sorted out as thrush can be passed back and forth.

When to worry: If it doesn’t clear up with the cream, see your GP.

“It could be an STI with similar symptoms, or it could be scabies, eczema or a different fungal infection,” warns Dr Kelly.

Is it a headache, or a brain tumour?

Your odds: If it is a brain tumour, you’re unlucky. The Brain Tumour Charity says fewer than one in 10,000 of us develop a terminal headache in our lifetimes.

“Less than 1% of people who consult their GP about a headache ­actually have something seriously wrong with them,” says Dr Giles Elrington, a neurologist and trustee of the London Migraine Clinic.

Until your GP can diagnose the cause of your headaches, try a combination of Solpadeine and ibuprofen, shown in tests to provide the most effective over-the-counter pain relief (Solpadeine Max, £2.65 for 16; ibuprofen, 35p for 16 tablets, Tesco.com).

For a drug-free fix, roll on 4Head (£2.99 from amazon.co.uk ), a menthol stick that alleviates 80% of tension headaches by cooling the temples.

When to worry: Symptoms you ­definitely must not ignore are regular, severe headaches that are worse in the morning then improve throughout the day, weakness, loss of balance, deafness, memory loss and mood swings.

Thirst, or diabetes?

Your odds: While your thirst could well be down to a new exercise regime or the heat, it could also be the dreaded D word. About 3.7 million people in the UK have diabetes.

“Diabetes occurs when the amount of glucose in the blood is too high because the body can’t use it properly,” explains Simon O’Neill of Diabetes UK.

This unused glucose – or sugar – goes into the urine, so sufferers need to pee almost constantly and hence are constantly glugging liquids.

“In all cases, the symptoms are quickly relieved once the diabetes is treated,” Mr O’Neill explains.

When to worry: Tell-tale signs include a raging thirst, going to the toilet a lot, especially at night, extreme tiredness, weight loss, regular episodes of thrush and blurred vision.

“Early treatment will also reduce the risk of serious health problems, which can be fatal,” adds Mr O’Neill.

A freckle, or skin cancer?

Your odds: While most of us have the odd mole or freckle, that little lesion may well be a ticket to meet your maker.

“Melanoma is exceeded only by breast cancer, with almost 2,000 deaths each year,” says Dr Julia Newton-Bishop, a dermatologist based at St James’s Hospital in Leeds.

Choose suncream wisely. “Always pick your suncream by SPF, which protects against UVB, but also opt for UVA protection, which also contributes to melanoma,” says Dr Newton-Bishop.

And price isn’t a guide – Asda Sun System Protection Lotion SPF30 (£3.50 for 200ml) offers better protection than creams up to four times the cost, the Consumers’ Association found.

Apply every 2-3 hours and avoid the sun when it is at its strongest.

When to worry: Look for changes in colour, number, size or shape. They don’t happen overnight, they can occur over weeks or months. Caught early there is a 97% survival rate.

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