Dr Pixie McKenna gives her advice on ten common health problems
The 41-year old Irish medical expert Dr Pixie McKenna, has seen just about every kind of strange bodily problem and ailment during her four years on Embarrassing Illnesses and its sister series, Embarrassing Bodies. The focus of the programs is primarily to speak to people with a wide range of issues that they are uncomfortable discussing with their own GP. This week Dr McKenna spoke out and explained ten of the most regular problems she gets quizzed about, and her advice on how to try and best tackle them. Here we give a run down on the ten common health issues: 1) Flatulence Also known as ‘passing wind’ or ‘farting’. Sometimes linked to a number of stomach and bowel conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, excessive flatulence can be distressful for the sufferer. Some people find medications such as Mebeverine can be effective in treating their symptoms. Dr Pixie says: “Keep a food diary and correlate your ‘windy episodes’ with your food intake. Foods with sulphides, like eggs, are a big issue for people. You should also try to eat slowly. You can trap a lot of air when you eat and that creates a lot of gas. If your flatulence is really bad, see a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.” 2) Bad breath This is also known as ‘halitosis’ and it is thought that persistent bad breath affects up to 50% of us. Dentists can usually give good advice on better oral health and may refer you for further tests if the problem persists. Dr Pixie says: “Everyone should brush their teeth for two minutes a day and floss. Food can get jammed in between your teeth and you need to remove it. If you smell the floss afterwards, it stinks! Also, invest in an electric toothbrush. It’s like using a Dyson versus a broom to clean your mouth.” 3) Painful sex Often thought that this just affects women, surprisingly the problem can affect both sexes. For women, when the pain is located in the vagina, this is most commonly due to sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or genital herpes. Pains deep in the pelvis could be because of pelvic inflammatory disease, irritable bowel syndrome or endometriosis (when womb lining grows outside the womb). Men’s problems are typically due to tight foreskins, inflammation of the prostate gland, or because of sexually transmitted infection. Dr Pixie says: “There can be other gynaecological reasons for painful sex – it could be down to a fibroid or cervical polyp. Or there could be a psychological element. But by not actively exploring your symptoms further you could be missing a significant diagnosis. The other easily treatable common condition is chlamydia, which has no symptoms.” 4) Snoring It is estimated that 40% of people in England snore, so the problem is very common. Health professionals usually grade a person’s snoring problems on a scale of 1 to 3. Grade 1 is where snoring is not regular and breathing is unaffected. Grade 2 snoring is usually occasions of more than three days a week with mild breathing difficulties. Grade 3 sufferers are usually diagnosed with ‘obstructive sleep apnoea’, where the airways become partly or completely blocked for about 10 seconds. Dr Pixie says: “Snoring can be caused by having very large tonsils or a floppy larynx. When you lie down, the muscles that keep your airways open relax and become limp, causing the airways to narrow and vibrate more. Sleep apnoea can be brought on by weight gain but a CPAP machine, a little device you wear at night, which makes the airwaves stay open, can help.” Nasal blockage or swelling of the nasal passage can lead to snoring, as the person often opens their mouth to try and breathe better, which leads to snoring. Regular use of a nasal spray such as Nasonex and the taking of an anti-histamine tablet such as Loratadine can relieve these symptoms. 5) Stretch marks Stretch marks are common and either sex can get them, but are more frequently seen in nearly all women (9/10) during pregnancy. The abdomen, thighs and buttocks and thighs are the areas usually affected. Dr Pixie says: “Laser treatment is not available on the NHS but your GP can refer you to the Red Cross, which provides a skin camouflage make-up service. They match your skin tone, and your GP can then prescribe that cream on an NHS prescription. Then, when you go on holiday and you want to cover the stretch marks on your body, you have something to camouflage them with.” 6) Erectile dysfunction Also known as male impotence, this is a very common problem amongst men and is thought that four in 10 men over the age of 40 years old suffer from it. Erectile dysfunction (ED) can sometimes have a detrimental impact on a man's self-esteem and cause stress to his health and the relationship with his partner. Erectile Dysfunction therapy is very effective and the three medications available to treat ED are Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. Dr Pixie says: “Any man suffering from erectile dysfunction should see their GP and have a blood pressure check and their blood tested for things like diabetes and high cholesterol. If you are on medication, like anti-depressants or blood pressure medication, that may be causing the problem. See a counsellor if stress is the reason.” 7) Acne Acne is especially common in teenagers and young adults. Estimates say 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30 will be affected by acne. Sometimes acne can continue into adult life. About 5% of women and 1% of men over the age of 25 suffer from acne. In severe cases, medication such as Dianette has been shown to help combat the problem. Dr Pixie says: “Women should go to their GP for antibiotics or the contraceptive pill, or they can see a gynaecologist. Men can also get antibiotics and for adults who have rosacea (a skin condition that causes facial redness and spots), this can be cleared with antibiotic treatment.” 8) Obesity To be classified as being ‘obese’, you must have a body mass index of 30 or more. As more people as generally less physically active than years gone by, and we are over indulging on fast foods, the problem has become massive. In 2008 (the last year with available figures), it was found that nearly quarter of adults (over 16 years of age) in England were obese. Dr Pixie says: “The majority of those overweight are that way because of a combination of lifestyle and lack of exercise. They often say they are too busy to go running or to go to the gym. But I say to them, “If Barack Obama can always find time to go jogging then you certainly can.” We watch 22 hours of television a week on average so there is no excuse.” 9) Bunions A bunion is a deformity of the base joint of the big toe, usually appearing as a lump. They can be incredibly painful, and effect a person’s walking. The skin over the lump can become red, blistered or infected. Wearing appropriate shoes and taking painkillers may lessen the symptoms to some degree, but surgery is usually required to correct the problem. Dr Pixie says: “If you don’t treat bunions as you get older, you can get arthritis in them and run the risk of becoming immobile. So try not to get them in the first place. If they get bad, surgical removal is the only alternative but a podiatrist would be the best person to ask about your options. They would look at your gait, how you walk, advise you on what shoes to wear and also give you a special device to put in your footwear, which takes the pressure off the bunion.” 10) Incontinence Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine. It is believed to affect more than 50 million people in developed nations. It is particularly a big problem amongst women over the age of 40, with some believing it to be even more common than hay fever. It affects men too though, with products now available such as Tena for Men, which can provide a discreet method of protection with a variety of absorption levels. Dr Pixie says: “I would definitely go and see your GP. Usually, incontinence is a physical problem and not normally neurological. But you do need to check that it’s not MS or something more serious. I would suggest bringing along a diary to your GP to show how many times a day you pee and how many accidents you have because it is far easier for them to see how it is impacting on daily life. They might suggest pelvic floor muscle training, bladder training or reducing your caffeine intake.” Medical Specialists always recommend that you talk to your GP about any health problems or issues. It is always advisable to have regular check-ups with your GP and know how to check certain parts of your body yourself. Medical Specialists realise that not everybody is happy taking to their GP about every problem, and that is why we offer a discreet and confidential online consultation service with our Doctors for certain embarrassing conditions like Erectile Dysfunction, Premature Ejaculation, Obesity, Stomach and Bowel (IBS etc), bladder problems (incontinence), Acne, Asthma and many more problems. You can be assured of a private and confidential online consultation with one of our Doctors and if suitable, they will write you a prescription which is passed to our in-house Pharmacists, and dispensed and sent to you at your home, your place of work, or where ever you choose, discreetly within 24 hours.