Piercing pain from belly ring; Common sense answers to your health problems by the Seven Days doctor.

Byline: Dr Gareth Smith

Q I GOT my belly button pierced a few weeks ago and it still hasn't healed properly. From time to time it gets red, hot and painful and then it clears up. I wanted it to look good on the beach for my summer holiday, but do you think I should I just forget the whole thing and take it out?

A IT can take six months to a year for a navel piercing to heal properly. This is because the wound is much longer than the one made when you get your ear pierced. It is very important to keep it as clean as possible if you want to avoid removing it. Treat it as a nurse would treat a wound. Use antiseptic ointment such as Savlon Spray once a day if it is inflamed and wash it as often as you can (ideally four times daily) with sterile saline (use contact lens solution). Try to wear loose clothing, as this will cause less irritation. But if it doesn't get any better, the only cure is to take it out.

Q I HAD an alcohol problem but I have been sober for six months. Since then I have noticed a number of problems. My balance is disturbed, I have memory problems, and I have pins and needles in my hands and feet. I was prepared for withdrawal symptoms but this is dreadful. What can I do?

A THE symptoms you describe are most likely due to a deficiency of vitamin B and Thiamine. One of the complications of alcohol dependence is that the body runs chronically low on these chemicals, which are required for nerves in the body and the brain to remain healthy. Despite the fact you are now sober and are most probably eating healthily, your reserves of vitamin B and thiamine will still be low. Go to your doctor and ask for supplements called Vitamin B Compound Strong, two tablets three times a day and Thiamine 300mg once daily. This should stop further deterioration and may improve your symptoms.

Q MY son is seven years old and keeps having funny turns. Occasionally, he stares off into space for a few seconds and then acts as if nothing has happened. I don't want to bother my GP about it, as it seems so vague. Should I be worried?

A IF it seems strange to you as his mother then I think it is important to take him to his GP. There is a rare form of epilepsy that affects children called Petit Mal or absence seizures. They are most common between the ages of five and nine. During the seizure the child stops what they are doing, stares off into space for between 5 and 20 seconds and then continues as if nothing has happened. They often have no recollection of having stopped and are surprised by people's reactions. Attacks can often be brought on by overbreathing or flashing lights. Your GP will arrange a paediatrician to see him who can arrange some tests.

Q I AM in my early 50s and I am going through the menopause. I have noticed that I have dark shadows forming under my eyes. Are there any vitamins I can take to help these?

A AS we get older, our skin loses its elasticity. When a woman goes through the menopause, her skin may also thin a little and become dryer. The dark rings are caused by a combination of these factors making the small blood vessels that lie under the skin of the eye become more obvious and show through as shadows. Some creams on the market claim to fade these but the effects vary from person to person. Vitamins A and D help with skin repair, but you may find most benefit from increasing natural oestrogens through your food. Soya beans have one of the richest supplies of phytoestrogens, which can help with menopausal symptoms. Try using soya milk and soya protein in cooking.

Q I HAVE a pain in the back of my calf when I walk and my toes go numb. What could be causing this?

A IT may be you have a problem with the circulation in your leg. If the arteries become narrow, it can cause symptoms such as yours - known as intermittent claudication. It is important your doctor checks you out by feeling the pulse on the front of your foot and comparing it to the other side. If necessary, he can arrange for a specialist to look at your leg.

Q WHEN I take any tablets, I always swallow them with tea or coffee, but my husband says I should take them with water. Is he right?

A THE reason tablets are taken with fluid is to ensure that they travel into the stomach without stopping in the gullet. Tea and coffee both contain caffeine, which increases acid consumption in the stomach. This, in combination with the heat from the fluid, may lead to the tablets disolving quicker than the manufacturers would recommend, which could cause irritation in the stomach or nausea. I tend to side with your husband and suggest that you take them with water. Sorry!

Q I AM having my gallbladder removed by keyhole surgery. The doctors tell me that it is much better this way, but can you explain how it is different from a normal operation?

A KEYHOLE, or laparoscopic surgery involves much less time in hospital and the recovery period is much shorter. Unlike traditional methods of removing the gallbladder - which involved opening up your abdomen through a large incision under the ribs - keyhole surgery is done through three small cuts in the abdomen wall. The surgeon pumps air into the abdomen and looks through a telescope. He or she then removes the gallbladder with long instruments through the other two holes. There is much less disturbance to the bowel and fewer complications.

Q MY husband and I do not want any more children and one of us is considering getting sterilised. Which is the safest option?

A A VASECTOMY is far safer than female sterilisation as it involves a less complicated procedure which can be done under local anaesthetic as a day patient. You are still advised to use other forms of contraception until the husband's sperm count has dropped into the infertile range. With female sterilisation, you would require a general anaesthetic, there is no guarantee it would work and you have a higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy - a pregnancy that develops outside the womb, which is very dangerous. Go to your local family planning service and they will discuss the options with both of you in more detail.

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 g.smith@sundaymail.co.uk. Your letters cannot be answered personally.

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