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I'm so fed up being a paleface; Common-sense answers to your health problems by the Seven Days doctor.


Q I AM a young woman aged 23 and I am very pale-skinned. At times I look so white it really gets me down. Is there anything I can do to improve my colour?

A IN a society where brown is beautiful, it can be very difficult if you are naturally pale-skinned. Unfortunately, the amount of melanin, or brown colouring, your body produces is in your genes. It would not be advisable for you to try and tan your skin, as fair-skinned people at are much higher risk of developing skin cancer. The only thing I can suggest is that you try and find a good self-tanning cream you can use regularly which will give you colour without the risks to your health.QCOULD you give me some information on the drug Viagra? Is it available over the counter or do you need a prescription for it?

A VIAGRA is used to treat erectile dysfunction, or impotence, in men. It is a prescription-only medication that has very clear guidelines on who can be prescribed it on the NHS. Unless you have had a spinal injury, surgery on your prostate gland, radiation treatment for cancer in the pelvis, or you have been seen by a specialist who says your problem is causing you severe emotional distress, it is unlikely you will get an NHS prescription from your doctor. You would have to pay for a private prescription, which costs pounds 25 or more for four pills.

Q MY partner is under the impression a vasectomy causes some men to put on weight. I have never heard of this. Is he just making up an excuse?

A I MUST admit I have never heard of it either, although I am sure I will get hundreds of letters from men disagreeing with me. He may be getting confused with pets, who do put on weight after they are sterilised, but this is because the testicles are removed in animals, causing them to develop a hormonal imbalance. Unless your husband had a very over-enthusiastic surgeon (just kidding) his testicles will still be there, so the op is not likely to be a cause. I would suggest a diet and exercise - or he finds a better excuse.

Q I AM 23 years old and I have been having problems with the circulation in my feet. I have been soaking them at night before I go to bed but it doesn't help. What else can I do?

A YOU are very young to be having circulatory problems and I suggest you see your doctor. Diabetes can sometimes present with circulatory difficulties and there is also a condition known as Reynauld's Disease that causes the blood vessels of the hands and feet to go into spasm, leaving them cold and white. If everything checks out OK, try some Ginko Biloba, a herbal medicine that improves circulation to the skin.

Q OVER the past three weeks I have developed lower back pain. The worst thing is I get a surge of heat that comes from my back and goes into my right buttock. What is casing this?

A IT sounds as if you have pressure on the sciatic nerve. This is a large nerve that goes from the spine to the buttock and down the back of the leg. Sometimes an injury can damage one of your intervertebral discs, which normally function as a cushion between the bones of the spine. These discs can then stick out and push on the sciatic nerve, causing pain and heat. You need to go to your doctor and have an x-ray of your lower back and, perhaps, a referral to physiotherapy.

Q I HAVE lost all the hair from my body. I had Hepatitis A 10 years ago and since then my hair has become thinner. I am not too worried about the hair on my head, but I feel like a freak because I have no eyebrows or eyelashes. Will it ever get any better?

AYOU have a very grand-sounding condition called alopecia totalis et universalis, which means the loss of all body hair. This can sometimes occur after a viral infection, when it is thought the body sets up an immune reaction against its own cells, causing the hair loss. Sadly, you can't really speed up the regrowth, but the majority of cases do get better by themselves. It is just a case of being patient.

A MY mother has osteoporosis and was recently told one of her vertebrae had collapsed. She has recently lost a lot of weight and a chest x-ray showed she has an abnormality in her lung. She now thinks she has cancer. What should she do?

A FIRST, I suggest she gets a clearer description of the "abnormality". Doctors can sometimes use phrases like this which only have the effect of worrying their patients. All x-rays are looked at by a specialist, called a radiologist, who issues a report. Her doctor will have a copy of that report and it will say whether the radiologist thought the abnormality was suspicious or not. If there are concerns, the doctor can arrange follow-up x-rays or a scan of her lungs and spine. It is likely her weight loss is due to pain from her osteoporosis and that the x-ray change is unconnected.

Q I HAD a bowel operation, which left me with a colostomy. The doctor said it would be reversed, but I am worried about it. How long will it take for the reversal to work?

A IF a piece of large bowel is removed due to inflammation or cancer it is often done in two stages. The first stage involves removing the diseased part and creating a new opening through the skin of the abdomen (a colostomy), to give the rest of the bowel time to heal. A reversal involves reconnecting the two cut ends. It is usually not as traumatic as the first operation, as the bowel is healthier and the patient is usually fitter. You will be kept in hospital on a drip until the bowel starts to move, which can take a few days. You then move on to a light diet just before you go home.

Q MY friend's mum has bowel cancer. The tumour was removed but doctors found tumour deposits in her liver and said there was nothing to be done. Would a liver transplant help?

A CANCER spreads in three ways - locally, when it invades other organs around the original site of the tumour, via the lymphs, when it moves to glands around the tumour site and, thirdly, via the bloodstream. Your friend's tumour will have spread to her liver through the blood. This means it has probably also spread to other parts of the body. If you replace the liver with a new one the cancer will come back, as the liver filters all the blood in the body. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy can sometimes slow the disease. She should discuss these treatments with her specialist.

IF you have a medical query, write to Dr Smith, Seven Days, Sunday Mail, One Central Quay, Glasgow G3 8DA or e-mail me at

Your letters cannot be answered personally.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Title Annotation:Health
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 30, 2002
Previous Article:healthcheck: Childcare: Birth to six weeks.
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