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What is your Achilles heel?; If you are plagued by the same old ailment, it may not just be down to coincidence.

JAYNE TAYLOR tries to stifle her coughing as she turns the key in the lock quietly to avoid waking her flatmate. Late work deadlines meant staying in the office until 10pm.

After a quick drink to unwind and a cab ride home, it is nearly midnight before she reaches her flat in Glasgow's West End. Seven more hours and the alarm will go off, rousing her for another 12-hour day in the office.

Jayne, 30, loves her work but a chest infection is dragging her down.

"Every year I get about four chest infections. It is only June and already I'm on my second one. It's so annoying," says the executive.

Everybody's prone to some health weakness. For Jayne it's a bad chest, for others it may be weak bladder, easily upset stomach or outbreaks of a nasty skin rash. Whenever you're run-down and feeling a bit low, you can bet that's when it will show up.

Anna,17, a college student, says her Achilles heel is repeated bouts of eczema.

"Whenever I'm working too hard and my social life is hectic, I get eczema patches on the backs of my hands. They are red scaly patches and look really horrible."

Stress is the trigger for most of these ailments, according to psychologist Dr Stephen Palmer* who specialises in stress management.

"We all have our own personal symptoms," he says. "If you look around an office at a group of workers under stress , you will find one has developed a twitchy eye, while another has a streaming cold. Someone else has probably gone home with an upset stomach.

"What they all have in common is they're feeling stressed and run-down."

The answer is to find out what is causing you stress, and finding a way of controlling it - or cutting it out of your life altogether.

Dr Palmer says: "Some people are born `awful-isers'. To them, a deadline is a major catastrophe, whereas to another person it is just a pain in the neck.

"I use cognitive behavioural methods to help people stand back from these situations and get them in perspective. I might say, perhaps, `by terrible do you mean as terrible as your partner dying?'

"Of course, they don't mean that, but it is a way of helping them understand that this deadline is not a problem on the same scale.

"They need help in seeing things in proportion, and that helps cut stress. Relaxation techniques can be useful for many people, but they would not be helpful in this situation. It is important to find the right sort of help for each difficulty."

Dr Philip Welsby, consultant in infectious diseases at Edinburgh's Western General Hospital, says busy, hard-working people seem to be particularly hard hit by niggling health complaints.

These high-achievers get really fed-up and frustrated that their bodies are letting them down. Dr Welsby says: "Whatever your weak spot, it will show up when you get tired and run down.

"It would be nice to have a neat answer, but we don't really know why one person's chest will be affected, whereas another person comes out in a rash or ear infection.

"The good news is that although stress and emotional upsets can cause a wide range of physical symptoms, there is no evidence they cause anatomical diseases, such as cancer or heart disease."

One theory, according to Dr Sarah Brewer, author of The Complete Book of Men's Health (Thorsons) is that your weak spot depends on the immune system you have inherited from your parents and your body's store of antibodies against certain illnesses.

She says: "You can do a lot to boost your health by having a good diet, avoiding stress, getting plenty of exercise and steering clear of pollution. Poor diet also drags down your immune system.

"That sort of self-help gives you control over your health."

Trina Webster, 42, agrees that genes could determine your particular weak spot. Like Jayne, her 16-year-old son David regularly gets chest infections.

She says: "Whenever he's low or under pressure, he gets a chest infection, just like his grandad who gets bronchitis several times a year. The weird thing is they even share a similar taste in food. Both love sausages, crisps, and biscuits and would never peel an orange.

`They even have similar natures. Both can be a bit moody, but they are also very kind people."

Jayne says weak chests run in her family. "My sister Alexis, who is three years younger than me, also gets chest infections. My mum's prone to them, too.

"My great auntie had a weak chest and at one point was very ill with TB. As a child, I saw a lot of her. Maybe I caught a mild dose. When I had my BCG at school, I didn't have a reaction to the skin test which suggested I'd been exposed to TB at some stage."

Dr Tom Whitmarsh, consultant at Glasgow's Homeopathic Hospital, cautions against over- emphasis on family links.

But he says: "They play a part in migraines. You will find there are quite a few `headachey' members in a family. What concerns me, however, is that the power of suggestion is extremely strong. If you're repeatedly told a weak bladder runs in the family, you will come to believe it.

"In the same way, if I were to tell a patient he will never get well, he probably won't. These can be self-fulfilling prophecies."

Whatever your weakness, the best thing to do is see your GP. Persistent niggling symptoms could be signs of a serious condition.

If, however, you've been to the doctor and nothing seems to work, it may be worth seeing a homeopath.

Alternative medicine sees people's ailments as falling into different categories, explains homeopath John Jezewski**, who is based in Forres, Moray.

He says: "I take the miasmatic approach which classifies people according to their symptoms. Your genetic inheritance and family history determine which miasm your particular symptoms belong to.

"Someone whose range of symptoms typically come into the tubercular miasm, for instance, will be prone to chest infections. You will probably find someone in the family had TB, even generations ago.

"Someone who suffers from skin complaints, will belong to the psoric miasm - they are suffering from underfunctioning for which they need sulphur.

"Those with the sycotic miasm show symptoms of over-production like a runny nose, any type of discharge and being overweight.

"To suggest a remedy, it is important to determine which miasm a person's symptoms belong to."

While physical symptoms provide the vital clues, John Jezewski says a person's emotional well- being should not be overlooked because it plays a big part in your health. He says: "Stress, anger, boredom and upset all affect the proper functioning of your body. It is important to find a way of letting out these emotions safely.

"I help run Alternative Holidays, which provides courses in relaxation.

"We also have sessions where angry people are encouraged to learn to release their feelings with specially- trained support group leaders.

"Pleasure too, is important. Massage, saunas, hot tubs and a good social life all help maintain your physical health."

Stress Management, by Dr Stephen Palmer and Lynda Strickland (Folens,[pound]4.99)

John Jezewski: 01309 676871

Try out these stress-busting tips

EAT high-fibre whole foods including wholemeal bread, pasta, brown rice and muesli or porridge. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.

DECREASE your sugar, salt and saturated fats intake. Replace whole milk with semi-skimmed or skimmed. Replace butter with olive oil-based products, cream with low-fat fromage frais.

EAT little and often to avoid low blood sugar, which triggers the release of adrenaline and heightens the symptoms of stress.

IF you smoke, try to stop. In the short term, it may feel helpful in dealing with stress. In the long term, it makes the damage of stress on your health much worse.

KEEP alcohol intake within safe limits Learn to relax. Go swimming, cycling, or take a stroll around the park in your lunch hour.

(from Dr Sarah Brewer's The Complete Book of Men's Health , Thorsons)

Tried and tested remedies to help keep those persistent problems at bay

RECURRENT COLDS

Triggers

Stress, bad diet, smoking, exposure to pain, fumes, anything which inhibits the immune system.

Worth a try

A multi-vitamin supplement, Vitamin C. The herbal extract echinacea may help

ECZEMA

Trigger

Stress, or allergy to a substance such as paint if you are redecorating.

Worth a try

Avoid stress.

Oil of primrose oil.

Soya or almond oil added to the bath can be soothing. Check for food intolerance. Learn relaxation techniques.

Homeopathic remedies are available.

CYSTITIS

Trigger

Caused by infection of the urethra or bladder. Can also be triggered by frequent sexual intercourse.

Worth a try

Drink plenty of water. Drink cranberry juice. Urinate frequently - before and always after sex can help because the urine is then diluted and less likely to harbour bacterial growth. Avoid perfumed soaps and bubble baths. Only wear cotton underwear and avoid tight-fitting jeans.

CHEST INFECTIONS

Triggers

Stress, bad diet, smoking,

Worth a try

A multi-vitamin supplement, Vitamin C.

The herbal extract echinacea may help.

DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS

Trigger

Stress, diet, imbalance in the gut, bacteria.

Worth a try

Natural yoghurt to restore the `good' bacteria, avoid foods which seem to make symptoms worse.

Avoid coffee.

Try to relax more.

HEADACHES

Trigger

Stress, suppressed anger, too much caffeine or alcohol, food allergy.

Dehydration is the most common cause

Worth a try

Avoid tea, coffee and alcohol. Get your eyes tested.

Drink plenty of water.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Wrottesley, Catriona
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 2, 1999
Words:1591
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