12 common health questions answered by our GPs
If you’ve ever had one of these worries, you’re not alone.
Our GPs answer some of the UK’s most common health queries
Meet the GPs answering your health questions
Dr Fiona Warner is one of the private GP team at Benenden Hospital and specialises in women’s health
Dr Chris Morris is the medical director of Health Hero, which operates Benenden Health’s 24/7 GP Helpline
Help and advice for common health questions
1. How do I lose belly fat?
Dr Fiona: The best way to lose any excess or unwanted body fat is to reduce your calorie intake or increase your exercise levels to burn additional calories. Look carefully at your diet and in particular the sugar, fat and carbohydrate content of food. Also reduce alcohol. It is always best to maintain a healthy balanced diet and aim to lose weight gradually. Crash diets rarely give long-term results.
2. What colour should my urine be?
Dr Chris: Really it should be as clear as possible – it’s not so much the colour and more how clear it is. Obviously, any colours other than yellow are concerning; blood red is the other common one, and we rarely see other colours in urine samples. You want to avoid dark coloured urine because that means you’re not drinking enough. You should be drinking 2 litres of water – or around eight mid-sized glasses – a day.
3. How should I keep my ears clean?
Dr Chris: The simple answer is don’t. You should get a flannel and wipe out what’s there but, other than that, if you’ve got problems then see a doctor or nurse and we’ll tell you what to do.
4. How do I know if my stress levels are too high?
Dr Fiona: Firstly, reflect on the causes of the stress and, if possible, make changes to your work or lifestyle that can help reduce the stress, or help you to cope with the stress better. Talking to colleagues, friends and family can help. If you find that your situation is not improving and that your health is deteriorating, you should seek further advice from your GP.
5. Is vaping actually worse than smoking cigarettes?
Dr Fiona: We still do not know the full long-term effects of e-cigarettes as they haven’t been in use for very long. We do know, however, that they can cause significant lung disease and we have seen this even in very young people.
6. How can I relieve a sore back from sitting at a desk all day?
Dr Chris: The answer’s in the question – don’t sit at a desk all day! Get up and go for a walk every hour. Walking is probably the best treatment for back pain because when we walk it strengthens the muscles in our back.
7. Why are my feet itchy?
Dr Fiona: Itchy feet could be due to an underlying skin condition or occasionally a neurological condition, which can give the feet a prickling or burning sensation. If it is a persistent problem, and you are unsure or concerned, then seek advice from your pharmacist or GP.
8. How often should I be going to the toilet?
Dr Chris: The normal frequency for bowel movements can range from once a week to three times a day. What matters is if your habit changes, because everybody is different. In my personal view it’s not how often you’re going, but how long it takes you to go. If you can’t empty your bowels in about 10 seconds, then the consistency of your poo is not as it should be. It should be soft enough and formed enough that it should come out quite easily without straining. Straining causes piles and tears. You want to have a formed, smooth stool that’s easy to pass.
9. How do I know if I have hay fever and what can I do about it?
Dr Chris: It’s a really difficult one, hay fever, and it’s been even more difficult this past year because people have thought, ‘Is it hay fever or is it coronavirus?’ You don’t have to have all those symptoms – some people just have a congested nose, some people just have a runny nose or eye symptoms – and there are some really good over the counter treatments available now.
For mild nasal symptoms, a steroid nasal inhaler is good, and the antihistamine tablets you can now get don’t make you as drowsy as they used to, and they’re very good at treating eye and nose symptoms. You can get eyedrops, but really if you’re getting nose and eye symptoms and over the counter remedies aren’t working, then you should see your GP, as we can prescribe stronger medication.
10. What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?
Dr Chris: Migraines may last between 24 and 36 hours, and often follow a pattern. Common triggers include stress, or being on your period; even certain foods, such as cheese or marmite, can trigger a migraine. Most people will be able to identify a pattern to the headache, and if you’re having more than five migraines a month, we need to see you.
11. I get terrible period pain, what can I do about it?
Dr Fiona: You can start by trying over the counter painkillers on advice from a pharmacist. If these are not effective and the pains from your periods are affecting your day-to- day life, then you should seek advice from your GP. There are many different treatment options that may be available to you.
12. How do you spot the signs of skin cancer?
Dr Chris: There are three types of skin cancer. There’s malignant melanoma, which is usually spotted in brown moles – you should look out for any changes in these. Then there’s squamous cell carcinoma, which are little ulcers that often crust over and do not heal, and so become cancerous. And finally, there is basal cell carcinoma, which is an unusual form of cancer because it grows very slowly and doesn’t spread anywhere; it’s usually an ulcer that doesn’t heal, doesn’t crust, and just gets bigger and bigger.