ON THE COVER
My Weekly’s favourite GP from TV and radio writes for you
The body is a complex thing. Sometimes your GP won’t have a diagnosis straight away – blood tests may narrow the possibilities, with a further set of tests depending on the results. Read on for clues as to what they’re looking for.
Shortness of breath with wheeze, worse if you have a cold, exercise or come into contact with animals, may be asthma. It’s more common if you’ve had symptoms from childhood or if conditions like eczema or hay fever run in your family.
If you get short of breath lying flat as well as when you exercise, and have swollen ankles or a bloated tummy, that could mean heart failure. If you tell your doctor you’re breathless they may ask how many pillows you sleep with! They’ll be looking for swelling in your ankles that leaves a dent when you press it, and fine crackles in the base of your lungs. If they suspect it they’ll want a chest X-ray and a heart scan (echocardiogram) to see how well your heart is pumping.
If you’ve been a smoker for years and get short of breath, your doctor will want to know if you have a “smoker’s cough” or get lots of chest infections. That could suggest the lung condition COPD, usually but not always linked to smoking. Less commonly anaemia or being exposed to pigeons, coal or asbestos can damage lungs, so be ready to reveal your hobbies and job. Fatty lumps in your eyelids can be a sign of an inherited condition called FH, which leads to raised cholesterol and heart attacks. Your doctor is likely to check your knuckles and the back of your ankles for other fatty deposits.
WHITE SPOTS ON YOUR NAILS ARE USUALLY DOWN TO MINOR KNOCKS RATHER THAN SERIOUS CONDITIONS LIKE LOW (OR HIGH) CALCIUM
If your doctor is looking for swollen glands they may check your neck, armpits and groin.
Yellowing of the whites of your eyes is usually caused by jaundice, often down to liver problems – your doctor will want to check your liver (in the top right of your tummy).
Pitted nails can be a sign of psoriasis – your GP may check your elbows, knees and scalp.
A lump on the front of your neck may be a goitre – an enlarged thyroid gland. Your GP will want to check your heart rate (often raised in overactive thyroid).
If you have waterworks symptoms, always take a urine sample with you – your GP can often check it in the surgery, and may want to send it to the lab as well. If you’re a man, they may also want to check your prostate, which involves putting a finger into your back passage.
If you go in with persistent bloating, pelvic pain, unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, expect an internal examination. Your doctor will be as gentle as possible and should offer a chaperone.
Tiredness can be caused by a host of medical problems though 75% of the time no physical cause is found. They’ll want to do blood tests to check your kidneys, liver, blood count (for anaemia), thyroid function, glucose (for diabetes) and a test called CRP or ESR to check for inflammation.
Dizziness can be down to inner ear problems (your GP will check your eye movements); low blood pressure when you stand up (blood pressure sitting and after you’ve stood for a minute); abnormal heart rhythms (blood pressure and heart examination); or anaemia (your inner eyelids).
If you have palpitations, your doctor will probably refer you for an ECG – a heart tracing that shows up abnormal heart rhythms – either done on the spot or using a machine you wear for 24 hours to detect abnormalities. Next week: Focusing on good eye health
“REFERRED PAIN” WHICH COMES FROM ONE AREA BUT IS FELT IN ANOTHER IS COMMON. EAR PAIN MAY COME FROM YOUR THROAT, FOR INSTANCE
There’s method in those odd questions!
IF YOU EVER HAVE ANY WATERWORKS SYMPTOMS, ALWAYS TAKE A URINE SAMPLE