Ask the doctor: readers’ health questions answered
Professor Kerryn Phelps answers readers’ questions about high cholesterol, facial hair, mental health and more, plus why kids under one shouldn’t drink fruit juice.
Q I was diagnosed with high cholesterol at the end of last year, despite eating well and exercising a few times a week. I have switched my butter to a spread that lowers cholesterol, but I’m not sure how much difference this makes. What else can I do? G.D.
Elevated cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. You need to carefully analyse your diet. A dietitian can help you with this. Butter is one food that can contribute to elevated cholesterol, but animal fats and trans fats should be avoided. Plant foods (vegetables, whole grains, oats) and fish are important in your diet. Regular exercise can help, too.
Q My mother has developed lots of hair on her face, particularly on her chin, following menopause a few years ago. Is there medication that can stop this from happening? R.S.
She will need to be checked for excess cortisol or testosterone. Unfortunately, facial hair is a common problem for post-menopausal women and is caused by changes in hormones. It can be tricky to treat. Coarser hairs can be plucked with tweezers as they emerge. The more profuse fine hair growth may be slowed down by topical cream. Waxing is another possibility. Bleaching can reduce the visual effect.
Q I am in my 30s and my knees have been “locking up” for about six months. I am worried about getting arthritis because it runs in my family. I was told to stop any impactful exercise, which I have. Could there be other remedies for this? S.K.
Locking suggests cartilage damage, which may need to be investigated with an MRI and an opinion from an orthopaedic surgeon. Your GP can investigate the many possible varieties of arthritis. Stiffness can be relieved by stretching exercises and yoga. Try to reduce your bodyweight to the lower end of your healthy weight range. Some supplements, such as glucosamine, fish oil or turmeric can help.
Q I think my son is suffering from bipolar disorder because his mood changes a lot. He has become quite depressed following the end of a relationship. He doesn’t like to talk. How can I help him? K.L.
Letting him know you are concerned and there to help is important. If he has a GP he trusts, encourage him to go for a chat and they may arrange a visit to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Encourage him to do activities he enjoys and spend time with supportive friends. If he is reluctant to talk, direct him to the website depression.org.nz, which offers helpful advice.
Q I have noticed in recent photos that my right eye looks a little lazy. I don’t have any major problems with vision, but it isn’t as clear as my left eye. I am only 26 years old. Should I see an ophthalmologist? What could be causing this? P.T.
You need to see your GP urgently. A unilateral change of vision or a recent alteration in the alignment of your eyes may be benign, but it could also signal a serious cause such as a nerve palsy or a brain tumour.
Q My five-year-old son has a plantar wart on his foot that doesn’t appear to be going away despite using salicylic acid from the chemist. It is quite painful. Is there anything else you suggest or should we go to the doctor to get it removed? N.F.
Plantar warts can be very persistent. The salicylic acid can burn normal skin around the wart and that is painful. His GP could try freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen, but this is also painful and often needs to be repeated. Plenty of vegetables and fruit in his diet, and an appropriate dose of oral zinc and vitamin C supplements to boost his immune system may help eradicate the wart.