5 Health Myths Your Doctor Wants To Bust
#1. “You need a prescription to feel better.”
Many people visit their doctors with cold or flu-like symptoms and don’t feel happy unless they are given some tablets – usually antibiotics.
“The problems is, antibiotics only work for bacterial infections. They will have no impact on viruses” says Dr Amarjit Raindi a GP at Twenty-five Harley Street, who also has practised in the NHS. “Not all coughs and coldness are suitable for antibiotics – indeed, wrongly prescribing could cause other health issues.”
The reason for this is antibiotic resistance. This resistance occurs when bacteria changes in such a way that antibiotics simply don’t work anymore. Antibiotic resistance means minor infections could become deadly and many medical advances could be at risk – surgery, chemotherapy and caesareans could become simply too dangerous
“Going to see a doctor who has the time and expertise to thoroughly look at your health and make an informed diagnosis is a far better option than having someone just scribbling a prescription,” explains Dr Raindi.
“There is an assumption that if you get better after having taken antibiotics that is the reason. But with most viruses, they simply run their course. The antibiotics have had nothing to do with it. Of course, antibiotics have their place, but you need a qualified doctor or a nurse practitioner to diagnose when they are required.”
If you find you keep on getting ill, having a full MOT would be a better option than simply asking for pills that may not even work. You can then get to the root of any problem with your health.
#2. “Osteoporosis can’t be treated.”
Osteoporosis can be a devastating illness that causes the bones to weaken, allowing them to easily break. This may cause fractures, even from a low height or falling on to carpet. It can also give the back a humped appearance as the vertebrae crumble.
There is an assumption among many people that osteoporosis ‘just happens’ and there is little anyone can do to stop or treat it.
However, this isn’t the case.
According to Professor David Reid, one of the UK’s leading osteoporosis doctors, there’s plenty that can be done to help those with osteoporosis, or its precursor, osteopenia. But how? After all, the early stage of osteoporosis can seem symptomless. However, changes will be happening in your bones years before the disease makes itself known.
“You need to know your risk. The DEXA (DXA) scanner can be very helpful in this regard.”
DEXA’s full name, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, is a scanner which works by having two separate X-ray beams with different energy levels.
You lie down on an open table and the scanner does its job. Some of the radiation is taken in by the bone and soft tissue and some travels through your body.
The DEXA scanner works out how much radiation is being passed through your bones by directing X-ray energy through the bone at a very fast rate, alternating from two different sources. This allows the scanner to work out your bone density.
Female over-50s are usually the people who get referred to for DEXAs; a family history of osteoporosis is another red flag. Also, anyone who has a restricted diet, doesn’t consume dairy, or who has suffered from eating disorders will also be at heightened risk.
So what can be done to actually treat and prevent osteoporosis? “Plenty,” says Professor Reid. “In terms of lifestyle tweaks to prevent the condition, I advise patients to make sure they get enough vitamin D from the sun and supplements combined (at least 400 IU daily as a standard for all adults and 800 IU for those with osteoporosis risk) along with moderate dietary calcium and as much weight-bearing exercise as possible.”
Professor Reid adds: “Drug treatment for prevention for those at heightened risk should be considered. “Hormone Replacement Therapy can help protect the bones. The evidence shows it can be used safely up until the age of about 60 without significant excess risk of heart attacks, strokes or invasive breast cancer.”
“If HRT is not deemed a suitable treatment, a group of drugs known as Bisphosphonates can be used.”
#3. “You need to be scrupulously clean everywhere.”
Don’t believe it. Certain parts do not need soap. By ‘certain parts’ we’re talking lady parts, or to be super-specific, the vagina. Naturally, when there’s a plethora of soaps and perfumed sanitary protection available, you could be forgiven for assuming your vagina requires washing – but not according to medical experts. It also doesn’t require water to be pumped up inside.
Consultant Gynaecologist Miss Tania Adib has this advice: “Never douche.”
She says: “Douching – pumping water into the vaginal cavity – upsets the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina (called vaginal flora). This causes infections such as thrush or bacterial vaginosis. Even more worrying, douching is associated with increased rates of cervical cancer and ovarian cancer.”
Just wash the vulva area (that’s the bit outside which grows hair) each day. You might prefer to wash more frequently during your period. When it comes the inner mucosa of the vagina and the labia (the parts inside the vulva), just using water to wash away any menstrual blood or sweat is fine. This could be via bathing, a bidet, or the shower. But don’t pump water inside the vagina. The vagina cleans itself.
Never worry about discharge (unless it’s smelly or is accompanied by itching or discomfort). The mucous discharge all women have is doing the job of keeping the vagina clean and healthy.
#4. “Heavy periods? You just have to put up with it.”
An average period lasts three to five days. However, some women just put up with menstrual bleeding that goes on far longer, or is so extremely heavy it bleeds through – even if you’re wearing a sanitary towel and a super-plus tampon. Believe us when we say, your doctor would rather you weren’t putting up with this. “Heavy, clotty periods can be very inconvenient, they can also be harmful to wellbeing,” comments Miss Tania Adib. “If a patient came to me with blood clots, I would be concerned she might be anaemic due to the heavy blood loss.”
So, what can be done about heavy periods? “The first line of treatment would be tranexamic acid – which has a chemical action that reduces bleeding. Controlling your periods with oral contraceptives or the Mirena Coil is another option.
The Mirena Coil provides contraception and can lessen periods – although you should be aware that symptoms may get worse initially.
Are their other options? “An endometrial ablation. The latest techniques mean they can be done under local anaesthetic in day surgery. The overall success rate of this operation is about 80% in stopping or lessening periods.”
#5. “Antidepressants are addictive. Avoid at all costs.”
Nobody likes to take unnecessary medication. We’ve all seen the stereotypes of drugged-up addicts, totally dependent for their next fix. Certain anti-anxiety medications, such as diazepam, are certainly only to be used for short periods of time. They should of course, only be prescribed by doctors. However, those suffering from serious depression should not allow this to stop them taking suitable medication as prescribed by their GP or psychiatrist.
“Antidepressants are long-term treatments,” comments Dr Dmitri Popelyuk, Consultant Psychiatrist at Twenty-five Harley Street. “They aren’t addictive. When they’re used well, they’re very necessary.”
Dr Popelyuk says the belief that depression can just be ‘got over’ is a failure to understand the seriousness of the condition. “Depression has significant potential for morbidity: it disrupts interpersonal relationships, leads people to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, and to take time off work, all of which can lead to further depression.”
For those who prefer the idea of therapy to antidepressants, Dr Popelyuk warns that for those with severe depression, it simply isn’t enough.
“Antidepressants are important tools in helping patients to recover,” he says. “They make therapy more accessible. For example, if you’ve a lack of energy and concentration because of your depression, antidepressants can help mitigate these symptoms, so you can get to your therapy session. They work as part of a holistic treatment plan.”