WITH such busy lives, feeling frazzled and stressed can become the norm.

But that can affect our wider health — as is the case for one reader this week, whose gut is playing up, causing them even more worry.

Dr Zoe Williams answers some common questions sent in by readers


Dr Zoe Williams answers some common questions sent in by readersCredit: The Sun

Getting stress under control can have a really positive impact on our day-to-day lives, and there are lots of ways you can help reduce it, as I explain below.

Don’t suffer in silence, you might be surprised what a difference talking about how you’re feeling can make. Here are some of the questions readers have asked this week . . . 

Q) WHEN you are aged over 15 in the UK, can you visit your GP without your parents knowing?

A) Yes, you can. In fact, you can make an appointment to see your GP at any age.

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As GPs, we generally prefer to see children with their parents or carer. But the way I see it is, if you have something you need to share with an adult, and you feel unable to discuss it with your parents or carer, then your GP is a good person from whom to seek safe and trusted advice, as is a school teacher.

It’s certainly better than going on social media to find the answers to your questions.

The doctor may encourage you to speak to your parents or carer to let them know what’s going on, but ultimately it’s your choice.

The only time a GP would break your confidentiality and need to inform your parents without your consent would be if you or somebody else was in danger.

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In the situation that a prescription, treatment or procedure was required, then generally those aged 16 or over are deemed old enough to consent to this.

Children under the age of 16 can consent to their own treatment if they’re believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what’s involved in their treatment.

This is known as being Gillick competent.

Q) I’M starting to think my stress levels and bowel issues are linked. I have a stressful job and have recently been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Are these issues linked and how can I improve my IBS?

A) Your gut and your brain are more closely linked than you’d think, as they send chemical signals to each other all the time.

It’s called the gut:brain axis.

Poor diet can affect the signals that are sent to the brain, and negatively impact our mental health.

Conversely, when we are stressed or affected emotionally, this can cause disturbance to our gut function.

Hence the tight link between stress and IBS, for example.

Many studies have demonstrated that putting good-quality, healthy food into our bodies and limiting processed food is an important factor for reducing risk to both physical and mental health.

In recent years, a flagship study, called the SMILEs Trial, showed a healthy diet can be used effectively as a part of the treatment of mental disorders.

The good news is that you can focus on a healthier diet, and this can improve both gut symptoms and mental health.

Or you can use approaches such as meditation, mindfulness or talking therapy to address your mental health, and this can also help both. Or, of course, you can do a combination of the two.

It’s also important to talk to someone. Jobs can be highly stressful and really take a toll on our health. Talking to a senior work colleague, or even a family member or friend, can help with finding solutions.
If you’re really struggling, chat with your GP to see what they can do to help.

Q) HOW long do you have to be suffering from Covid for it to be classed as Long Covid? And what are the most common symptoms?

A) Long Covid includes both ongoing symptomatic Covid-19 (four to 12 weeks) and post-Covid syndrome (12 weeks or more and not explained by an alternative diagnosis).

It can be a debilitating multi-system condition affecting an individual’s physical, psychological and cognitive health, their daily life and ability to work or attend education.

The three symptoms that are most common include fatigue, trouble breathing and cognitive dysfunction, which is some-times called brain fog.

But there have been more than 200 different symptoms described by people who have been affected, and just about any organ or system could be involved in this, from the lungs or the nervous system to the skin and even mental health.

Tot is putting my back out

Q) WITH having a toddler, is it normal to get upper back pain between the shoulder blades?

A) I wouldn’t say it’s normal, but it is highly likely that having a toddler and carrying them could be the cause of thoracic (upper spine) back pain.

This pain can occur as a result of strain, poor posture or repetitive actions such as carrying children on one hip or breastfeeding.

The thoracic spine is also a relatively common site for inflammatory, degenerative, metabolic, infective and neoplastic conditions, though. So if there is stiffness, fever, severe or worsening pain, pain that wakes you at night or is associated with other symptoms, you should see your GP.

Another common cause of thoracic pain is trauma, such as a whiplash injury caused by a car accident or as a result of a sports injury.

In your case, the toddler is likely to be the cause, especially if symptoms get better after periods of rest. It’s really important when carrying young children to try and use a good lifting and carrying technique.

This means where possible using the strength from your legs to lift the child up.

Ideally, crouch down next to the child, take them in your arms and pull their weight in close to your body before using your legs to stand. But young children can be very unpredictable – I know, as my own baby loves to just throw himself backwards. One way to protect our backs, and bodies in general, is to make sure they are strong and that our whole core is in good shape.

Regularly doing body-strengthening exercise like yoga, Pilates or resistance training can ensure our bodies are well equipped to deal with the strain of lifting heavy, unpredictable babies and toddlers.

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