• December 9, 2023

I fear I have hidden heart disease but can’t get an appointment with my GP


HALF of us are living with unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Small changes can make a big difference to those levels and that is important, given that high cholesterol leads to seven per cent of all deaths in England.

NHS GP Dr Zoe Williams answers health questions sent in by readers


NHS GP Dr Zoe Williams answers health questions sent in by readersCredit: UK Times

The condition is one of many drivers of heart disease, strokes and heart attacks.

High cholesterol is when you have too much of the fatty substance cholesterol in your blood.

As it’s Cholesterol Awareness Month, it is a good time to consider how you could improve yours.

Try to cut down on meat pies, sausages, cream, butter, cakes, biscuits and hard cheese like cheddar.

Instead, eat more salmon, mackerel, nuts, fruits and vegetables and brown versions of bread, rice and pasta.

Starting small will make it easier to stick to healthier habits long-term.

Ask your GP for a blood test to check cholesterol if you are over 40 and never had one, are overweight, or have a family history of related issues.

Here is a selection of what readers have been asking me this week . . . 

Q: I have a fungal infection on my toenails and it’s driving me insane.

I have tried everything over the past ten years – from tablets recommended by my GP to over-the-counter applications that are expensive and don’t work. I even went to a faith healer.

I’m at my wits’ end with it. I go to a martial arts class that requires us to be on our feet and I’m so ashamed of my toes that I’m thinking of giving it up.

A: Long-term fungal nail infections can be frustrating, but don’t lose hope just yet.

Sometimes, fungal infections in the nails can be stubborn, and often creams, gels and varnishes don’t penetrate deep enough inside the nail to where the fungus is.

A prolonged course of oral antifungal medication is often required, and by prolonged I mean several months.

If that doesn’t work then consider seeing a dermatologist who can offer treatments like laser therapy or prescribe even stronger antifungal medications.

In the meantime, keep toes clean and dry, change socks often, and avoid poorly ventilated shoes.

Fungus loves a warm and moist environment, which is why athlete’s foot is so common.

Remember to wash your feet soon after you’ve been barefoot in public spaces (like your class), also speak to your martial arts teacher about wearing toe covers or foot pads if that helps you to feel more comfortable.

Please don’t let this stop you from doing something you love!
Fungal infections are incredibly common and nothing to be ashamed about.

Keep seeking professional advice and enjoying your martial arts.

Q: I’ve just read an article in UK Times (Sept 26) in regard to hidden heart disease.

I have had the same symptoms as the article’s Melissa Butler for nearly a year.

I have contacted my local surgery constantly throughout this time but I’m always told there are no appointments available and to call back the following morning.

The receptionist asked what I thought was wrong with me.

They aren’t trained to give out medical advice but all she said numerous times was to cut back on eating fatty foods, get more exercise and take aspirin or ibuprofen.

The health service here is ridiculous as most doctors are working privately in hospitals since Covid. I’ve been dismissing my health worries as I’ve been getting nowhere.

A: The story that you reference, of Melissa Butler, is a concerning example of what can happen when symptoms are ignored or dismissed.

She had a rare condition called cardiac sarcoidosis.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, palpitations, fatigue, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, swelling of the legs and fainting.

It can be disheartening when you’re unable to get the attention you need.

General practice appointments are up by 12 per cent since before the pandemic.

That’s half a million more appointments each week, despite there being fewer doctors working in general practice.

As frustrating as it is, keep trying for an appointment.

Also explore online consultations, an appointment with a nurse or other healthcare practitioner or, if necessary, change your GP surgery — which you can now do on the NHS app.

Anyone experiencing chest pains that come on with exertion, severe breathing issues, an irregular heartbeat or fainting should consult 111 or attend A&E.

Do keep a detailed journal of your symptoms.

Note when they occur, their severity, and if they are triggered by anything.

This information can be valuable when you do eventually get to see a doctor.

Your health matters, don’t dismiss your symptoms and persist until you receive the care and attention you deserve.

Prostate issue indicated?

Q: I am a 74-year-old man and for the past six months or more I have had blood in my semen.

I also suffer from very bad lower backache. I am on medication for an enlarged prostate but still have trouble peeing, especially at night.

It takes a while for me to start and when it does it’s a case of spurt-stop-spurt-stop.

Blood tests came back negative.

A: Common causes of blood in semen include urinary tract infection, sexually transmitted infection or a problem with the prostate, such as prostatitis or an enlarged prostate.

Prostatitis causes inflammation of the prostate and it can be brought about by infection or other factors.

Another time when men may experience this is following a medical procedure such as a cystoscopy, vasectomy, or surgery of the prostate.

Rarely, blood in semen can be a sign of cancer, such as prostate cancer, as can the difficulties peeing.

The back pain is not to be ignored either as prostate cancer can spread to the bones.

Risks of the disease increases with age and men of Afro-Caribbean descent are twice as likely to get diagnosed – one in four men, compared with one in eight white men.

An enlarged prostate may well be the only cause of your symptoms. Medications can help manage this, but check with your GP.

In the meantime, you could try to cut back on caffeine and alcohol, drink less fluids close to bedtime, stick to a regular wee schedule and practise pelvic floor exercises


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