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Your doctor; Dr Mark Porter, TV's top GP, answers your health problems.

Getting sex off to a T

when the Pill is out

My husband and I are in our late twenties and have four beautiful children. We have decided that our family is big enough at present and are now looking for a reliable form of contraception.

Neither of us wants to be sterilised, I don't want to take the Pill, and my husband won't use condoms. We have settled on the coil, but don't know much about it. Can you help?

There are two types of coil - the intra-uterine device (IUD) and the intra-uterine system (IUS).

Both are T-shaped plastic devices and are about an inch long. The difference is that an IUS is basically an IUD impregnated with a slow-release hormone to increase its effectiveness (and cost!).

Both work by preventing egg and sperm meeting and/or stopping any fertilised eggs implanting in the lining of the womb if they do. They are placed in the womb by passing them through the cervix (this requires no anaesthetic and is similar to having a smear), and can be left in place for between three to five years.

Modern IUDs are much better than the old ones, but they still have their problems, the most common being that they tend to cause longer, heavier and more painful periods.

The IUS gets around this problem, thanks to the hormone it contains (the same one as used in the mini-Pill) and women using it normally find their periods get lighter and shorter.

Both are worth a try, but if you tend to have heavy or painful periods I would opt for the IUS. They provide excellent protection against pregnancy, with a similar failure rate to that of

the Pill.

If you are not happy, you can always have them removed. Your GP or local family planning clinic will be able to give you more advice and information on both types, and discuss other alternatives, including the diaphragm or cap, and "natural" family planning.

WHY do hospitals take the flowers out of wards and side rooms at night?

FLOWERS use daylight to produce oxygen, but when it gets dark they use up oxygen and produce poisonous carbon dioxide.

Because of this doctors and nurses used to think it best to take the flowers out of the wards at night.

We now know that changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are insignificant and I didn't think hospitals still did it.

A quick phone call to my nearest hospital confirmed that some still do. The reason? Fire regulations!

Strange secret of

a lop-sided lover

I have just started going out with a new boyfriend and am a bit concerned because I think there is something wrong with his testicles.

His left is about twice the size of his right and is soft and squidgy, and feels like a bag of worms. He says it has always been like that and there is nothing to worry about. What do you think?

ANY swelling of the testicle should always be checked by a doctor and your boyfriend should see his GP.

That said, it sounds as if he has the classic signs of a varicocele. This is basically varicose veins of the testicles.

It's surprisingly common, particularly in tall men, and tends to affect the left testicle more than the right. It is more noticeable after a hot bath and on standing - the testicle often feeling normal when lying down.

Most require no treatment unless they are painful or affect fertility (the warm blood in the varicocele can overheat the testicle, reducing sperm production). In these cases the swollen veins can be tied off in a quick and simple operation.

Listen to advice on your mobile phone

I am a sales executive and spend my life with my mobile phone pressed to my ear. My girlfriend is always going at me to stop using it. Do you think they are a health risk?

THERE are concerns amongst some scientists that the electromagnetic fields generated by portable phones could cause long-term brain problems, but there is no hard proof that they do - yet!

Until such time as the debate is settled either way, here are a few tips worth following: Extend the aerial fully, keep conversations as short as possible, and if speaking for more than two minutes swap to the other ear. Fitted car phones are not a problem because the aerial is normally not so close to the user.

Wash that

worry out of your hair

HOW often should you wash your hair? Am I likely to damage mine by washing it every day?

SHAMPOOS contain detergent which can strip away healthy oils that keep hair in good condition, and over- washing can lead to problems.

Twenty years ago most people washed their hair once or twice a week, but these days lots of people wash it every day. Thankfully the shampoo manufacturers are one step ahead, and modern "frequent use" shampoos are very mild and are designed to be used daily.

If you want to get your hair into peak condition, though, you should add in a daily "frequent use" conditioner as well. This is particularly important for people who heat-style their hair, or use a hair dryer, as both strip away healthy oils leaving the hair dry and brittle.

Allergy that

gets up

your nose

For 18 months I have had catarrh running down the back of my throat and an irritating cough that is worse at night. I have tried all sorts of decongestant sprays but nothing has helped. Any suggestions?

PERSISTENT catarrh and an irritating cough are classic symptoms of inflammation of the lining of the nose (rhinitis).

Most cases of rhinitis are caused by an allergy to something that you are breathing in (such as pollen, animal dander or the house-dust mite). It is best treated with steroid sprays (such as Beconase and Syntaris).

Scare after

a botched


I HAVE just come out of hospital after having my gall bladder removed. What should have been a routine operation went wrong in a number of ways and I ended up spending three weeks on the ward.

Now I am home I have noticed that my left leg has swollen up below the knee. I have never had a problem like this before and I am loathe to contact the hospital in case they want to get me back in. Is it anything to worry about?

THE first thing that springs to mind is that you may have a clot in the veins of your leg - known as a deep vein thrombosis or DVT. These are dangerous because bits of the clot can break off, flow through the circulation, and end up in the lungs causing a potentially fatal pulmonary embolus.

Symptoms of a DVT are a swollen, warm, and tender calf occasionally accompanied by a high temperature. People who have been bed-bound, had an operation, pregnant women, and women on the Pill, are particularly at risk. Call your GP immediately.

Eye, eye,

what's this?

My lower eyelids on both sides seem to be turning in and my eyelashes are irritating my eyes. Is there anything I can do?

IT sounds as if you have a common condition called entropion. It is caused by sagging skin and muscles around the eye, and is rare in people under 40. You can get temporary relief by taping the lower lid to the cheek (ask your GP to show you how) but surgery is the only way to correct it permanently.


There are few things more disgusting than the common head louse. And I should know - I see thousands of the little blighters every year, mostly on my daughters' heads!

Last term was a nightmare. My eldest, who has the longest hair, had them for weeks on end. I am not ashamed to admit my family had them, but it does upset me that I, a doctor, couldn't get rid of them! But I wasn't alone. Hundreds of thousands of families had the same problem, and it's all because head lice are getting hardier, with some types now resistant to all four types of commonly-used lice lotions. Help is at hand for this term - the old-fashioned nit comb (available from pharmacists).

Used properly it can completely get rid of lice - something no lotion has ever managed in my experience. First of all you should wash your child's hair in normal shampoo. This soaks the lice and slows them down.

Next apply a liberal dollop of conditioner. This makes the hair slippery, making it more difficult for the lice to hang on. Next comb thoroughly with the nit comb.

This won't shift the eggs, so repeat every three days until they have all hatched and the scalp is clear - three of four combings should do the trick. It's time consuming, but effective, cheap, and kind to the environment.

So much for modern medicine...
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Porter, Mark
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 12, 1997
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