I AM often asked if it is worth bothering a GP about an issue.
My answer is almost always yes.
Don’t let a wait for an appointment put you off, it is better to be seen later than not at all.
You may be asked to describe your problem on the phone.
This allows your issue to be dealt with by the best person (who may not be the GP) and for them to give you the most appropriate slot.
Receptionists are bound by the same confidentiality rules as doctors, so it can be very helpful to cooperate with this.
If you think it’s an emergency, tell them so.
You may also be able to book appointments through the NHS App, which I recommend people download as a means of ordering their repeat prescriptions, too.
If you’re unsure about a health problem, perhaps ask a pharmacist first.
They may be able to offer treatment and save you going to the GP.
Last week, pharmacists were given the powers to treat seven common conditions – earache, impetigo, infected insect bites, shingles, sinusitis, sore throat, and UTIs in women.
Not only will this free up GP appointments, it will give relief to millions of people who might otherwise have to wait.
Remember, pharmacists have had training and can generally advise on many minor ailments.
Here’s a selection of what readers have been asking me this week . . .
- Got a question for Dr Zoe? Email her at email@example.com
Tummy tightens and I feel so faint
Q: I AM a 76-year-old male with diabetes and lately when I make the ten-minute walk to my local shops, I have had a tight feeling around my abdomen and the inside of my upper arms.
It feels like I’m going to pass out but I never do.
After I get home, it feels like my kidneys are sore.
That pain lasts for which lasts about an hour before it finally disappears.
A: This is something that you should be seeking medical help for today.
It could potentially be angina – symptoms caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle.
Any new symptoms that come on with exertion and go away with rest should be checked over.
If you can get seen quickly by your GP in an emergency, or if the online consultations are the same day, it’s fine to go down that route rather than sit and wait at A&E.
Don’t panic unnecessarily, but while many think angina or heart attacks will present with severe crushing pain in the chest, this isn’t always the case.
We know people with diabetes are more likely to have an atypical presentation of things like angina.
In the interim, don’t push yourself or try to do too much physically.
Tip of the week
IF you feel stress is affecting your life, set two periods of downtime into your day.
Wake 20 minutes earlier to have a more mindful wake-up.
Sit and observe nature if you can.
It can be as simple as a tree in a city or through your bedroom window.
Really look at the colours and movement you can see.
One study showed an 18 per cent drop in stress hormone cortisol after experiencing nature.
Q: DESPITE the fact I’m 67, I can’t seem to grow a full beard.
It’s been more than two months since I last shaved and I’ve got what looks like two weeks of stubble on my face.
My moustache and chin hair are thick enough to be trimmed every two weeks.
My head hair is thick with no balding yet.
I don’t think this problem is hereditary – my father was able to grow a full beard in around five weeks.
I don’t want to appear vain but I’m too embarrassed to ask my female GP as I know how busy they are.
A: GPs are indeed busy, but different things bother different people to different extents.
There will be many men who wouldn’t mind having slow-growing facial hair, and lots who are affected by balding of the head and would love to switch places with you.
But if this is affecting your confidence or self-esteem, it is valid.
While the best predictor of facial hair is male relatives, specifically your dad and grandad, genetics are complex.
Although things tend to run in families, sometimes they don’t.
A male sex hormone called DHT binds to receptors on hair follicles on the face and stimulates growth.
A man’s genetics determine how sensitive the follicles are to the hormones, so the more sensitive the more likely to be able to grow a full beard.
But the opposite response is seen regarding the growth of hair on the head.
So it may be that the same genes that make it difficult for you to have a beard will help you maintain a full head of hair.
Other factors when it comes to facial hair growth include ethnicity – men from Mediterranean countries often find it easier to grow facial hair while Chinese and Asian men can have less hair growth on the face.
The diameter of human hair is also a factor.
It can vary from 17 to 180 micrometres – if your facial hair is incredibly fine you won’t look like you can grow a beard whereas if it’s thick, it’ll be visible and your beard will look fuller.
In some cases low testosterone can affect facial hair growth but you’d expect other symptoms such as low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, difficulty building muscle, increased body fat, mood changes and irritability.
If you have any of these symptoms in addition to not being able to grow a beard it’s worth mentioning it to your GP who can do a blood test.
Q: FOR the past week I’ve had a terrible underarm rash going onto my right breast.
It’s so bad I can’t wear a bra.
I checked for lumps etc and have no inverted nipple.
I will be 60 in August.
A: As this rash has only been there for a week, it is most likely to be either a skin infection, allergy or irritation to something the skin has come into contact with.
But you are right to think about breast cancer, as any changes to the skin of the breast or nipple, especially rashes or puckering (pulling inwards) of the skin can be a sign, even when you cannot feel a lump.
Make a GP appointment, but if there is a wait you could visit your pharmacist in the meantime.
They may be able to advise on whether it looks like a skin infection or allergy/irritation and what cream or ointment to try.
If it clears up you can cancel the GP appointment, but if not, it is always best to get assessed by a health professional.
Q: I HAVE had flaky patches behind my ears for more than half a year.
When I wash, it leaves a painful damp patch then turns into dry flaky skin.
These symptoms could be caused by several dermatological conditions, so it’s important to get it properly assessed by someone who can examine you.
Your GP can assess you properly either in person or initially via an e-consult using pictures of the areas when they’re wet and dry.
If your GP suspects a fungal infection they may want to take some scrapings and send them to the hospital mycology lab to see which anti-fungal creams are likely to work best.
You could keep a symptom diary too, to see if anything in your diet or products like shampoo exacerbate it.