Ask the doctor: readers’ health questions answered
Professor Kerryn Phelps answers your questions on psoriasis, large breasts, bloating, compression stockings and mercury levels in fish.
QI’m 58, and whenever I go on a plane, my legs swell up. Do you recommend compression stockings? What else can I do apart from stretching my legs during the flight to reduce swelling? S.M. Leg swelling on long-haul flights is a common problem. I recommend you always wear compression stockings and move around regularly. Avoid salt in your food for 24 hours before your flight and drink plenty of water during the trip to maintain hydration.
QMy husband recently had a severe case of gastroenteritis. For the past few weeks, he’s had trouble swallowing food. Do you have an explanation? P.O. First things first, I wouldn’t accept a diagnosis of gastroenteritis without further enquiry. Are you referring to vomiting and diarrhoea or just vomiting? Persistent trouble swallowing is a medical “red flag” and must be medically investigated. Possible causes include a neurological problem, inflammation in the oesophagus, or a blockage from a stricture or a tumour in the oesophagus.
QMy 20-year-old daughter has struggled with psoriasis since she was in her early teens. We’ve tried many creams, but nothing has really worked. I read that some foods can make the condition worse. What items should she be avoiding? K.L. If she’s overweight, try to help her achieve a healthy weight, because excess weight may contribute to increased severity of psoriasis. Encourage plantbased foods and avoid refined sugars and processed foods. A significant number of people with psoriasis respond to a strict gluten-free diet, so that’s worth trying, too.
QI have rather large breasts (size 14E) and have been experiencing severe back pain for the past few months. I’m contemplating a breast reduction. Would you recommend it? B.S. If you’re very unhappy with the size of your breasts for any reason, you can discuss breast reduction with a plastic surgeon. If back pain is your main motivation, explore possible other causes for your discomfort. A physiotherapist or osteopath can help you with this.
QI’m constantly feeling bloated after I eat. I’m only eating until I’m about 80 per cent full, but the pain and discomfort I experience lasts an hour or more. How can I overcome this? T.Y. You’ll need to see your doctor, who’ll test you for helicobacter with both a blood and a breath test. Your GP will also talk to you about a gastroscopy (an endoscopic examination of the upper digestive tract) to check for ulceration or other stomach pathology.
QI’ve heard there is now a shingles vaccination available in New Zealand. Who should be having the vaccine? R.M. Shingles is a painful condition caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus. One in three adults is at risk of developing shingles and it has a particularly debilitating effect on older people. The Zostavax vaccine, which is given as a one-dose injection, is available to people aged 50-plus, as this is the demographic most susceptible to shingles. The vaccine is not publicly funded, however, so expect to pay around $200. Speak to your GP about its suitability for you.