Answers to the 10 Most Common Health Questions I Receive
Patients tend to ask me the same questions time and time again. It’s as if there’s a list of universally nagging things that no one seems to answer for patients.
So, I’m answering them here. This is my top-10 list of the most-asked questions I hear from patients in my practice.
Should I see my doctor for a cold?
The average cold lasts five to seven days. If you develop a cough, a high fever (greater than 101.5 degrees) or facial pain, it could be more than a cold, and you should see your doctor.
Viruses cause colds. There is no treatment for viruses. Antibiotics will not help. In most cases, any OTC (over the counter) medication that helps to treat the symptoms is fine. For example, decongestants or antihistamines can often provide symptomatic relief.
Is all chest pain worrisome?
Most chest pain is benign—that is, not caused by heart or lung disease. Mostly it is a musculoskeletal issue. If the pain comes when you take a deep breath, or you feel short of breath with walking or a feeling of “heaviness” in your chest, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Women are prone to pulmonary emboli (clots in the lungs), especially women who take oral contraceptive pills. A pulmonary embolus causes pain and shortness of breath and can be potentially life threatening. See your doctor immediately or head to the closest emergency room.
What is the easiest way to lose weight?
There is no magic formula to lose weight. Sorry! The simple answer is: calories in minus calories out. So if you feel as if you would like to take off five to 10 pounds, cut back on your portions, make healthier choices and increase your physical activity.
One helpful hint is to grab a pen and pad and record everything you eat in a day, including a bite of this or a handful of that. It all adds up. Review your entries and make necessary adjustments!
Should I worry about my cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a necessary fat-like substance the body needs. Too much cholesterol can clog the arteries and lead to heart disease. Elevated cholesterol is caused by genetic history (do your parents have high cholesterol?) and diet—for example, red meat and fried foods.
It is important, even at a young age, to “know your numbers.” If your cholesterol is high (greater than 170), diet and weight loss might be able to help you prevent future heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and high cholesterol leads to heart disease by clogging up the arteries needed to provide your body with oxygen.
If diet and exercise do not work, a medication will be prescribed. If your doctor prescribes a statin (a cholesterol-lowering drug), be sure to compare prices, as they differ greatly from pharmacy to pharmacy. RetailMeNot Rx Saver is a free app and site that will do the prescription price comparison for you. It finds the lowest price at local pharmacies, sometimes up to 80% off*.
How do I retain my young skin?
Sunscreen is the key. Age-related changes to the skin are cumulative over the years. So if you sit in the sun without sunblock summer after summer, your skin will begin to show signs of early aging.
In addition, good skincare is key. I recommend cleanser, toner and moisturizer with sunscreen. At night, use an eye cream and night cream, and stay out of the sun during the day!
Why do I need a yearly physical?
Many diseases are preventable. Seeing a doctor who knows your body and what is normal for you can help to identify changes and what might be emerging health problems. Your blood pressure, fasting labs and any other tests that your doctor sees fit will help to prevent future illness. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
What about sleep?
Patients complain daily about not getting enough sleep. There are many reasons that people can’t sleep. The easiest things to identify are caffeine, nicotine or medications, such as pseudoephedrine taken for colds, with stimulant effects. Eliminating caffeine after noon can be helpful, as the half-life of caffeine in the body is about four hours, meaning by eight hours, it is all gone and metabolized.
If you have eliminated all the above offenders and still cannot sleep there are homeopathic methods, such as warm baths, lavender oil or melatonin tablets, to relieve pre-sleep stress. If this still is not effective, speak with your doctor about either OTC sleep pills or a prescription medication. Sleeping pills can be habit forming, so using them sparingly is advised.
What can I do to prevent cancer?
Unfortunately, there is no one good answer to this all-important question. The answer I give my patients is to do “all that you can do.” What does this mean? Do not smoke at all, including e-cigs. There are harmful chemicals that have been linked to an increased risk of the occurrence of certain cancers.
What about alcohol intake? Current thinking is one to two drinks a day is safe and maybe even protective. Anything more than this can change the body on a cellular level, which can lead to disease. It is very important to do all the screening tests that your doctor recommends based on your sex, age and current health status. Many patients complain about certain screening tests—for example, colonoscopy. But isn’t one day of inconvenience worth saving your life?
What about my moods?
Everyone has days that they feel “blue” or less than perfect, but sometimes, this is a warning sign of something more significant. It is important to talk to your doctor about your eating, sleeping, personal relationships and anything else that might have changed recently.
Our brain needs a certain amount of dopamine and serotonin to “feel good.” If our levels of these neurotransmitters are lower than they should be, we can feel depressed, anxious or angry. Your doctor might recommend mental health therapy and/or medication. Our mental health is as important as our physical health. Do not neglect warning signs.
What is the best exercise regimen?
My advice to patients is the best exercise is the one that works for you. Current medical thinking is that at least three days a week for 30 minutes is enough for health and brain health. Most of us exercise to increase our metabolism, lose weight and feel better. In order to increase metabolic rate, you need to do a combination of strength training and cardio.
Everyone should choose a regimen that works for him or her, but not doing exercise is not a choice. Recent studies have shown that exercise prevents the onset of dementia as well as heart disease. A great routine for a novice would be a vigorous walk outside or on a treadmill three days a week, with some intervals of increased speed. For example, walking at 3.5 miles per hour on treadmill and increasing the speed to 5 miles per hour for 30 seconds every three minutes. This type of interval training burns fat and increases metabolism.