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Your health questions answered!

Don’t understand why the weight won’t shift? Have a back that’s reminiscent of Quasimodo? Muddy puts your questions to Healthily’s chief medical officer, Professor Maureen Baker

Healthily, as you may already know, is a fantastically useful self-care website that brings medical knowledge out of the clinic and into everyday life. It allows you to access verified health-information online and a wealth of proven advice without having to schlep it down to the surgery (and wait the requisite two weeks to be seen). 

The Healthily team is jam-packed with top medical professionals, not least Professor Maureen Baker, the company’s chief medical officer, former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (yeah, no biggie *ahem*) and obviously, as a professor, an extremely accomplished woman. Ergo, the perfect expert to bag some time with to get your most pressing health issues answered (and thanks for the amazing response to our call-out for questions!). Right, come this way, the doctor will see you now. 

“I can’t lose weight but I’m no glutton!”

It’s not the kind of question that will go down well with a doctor at the moment (they’re quite busy!) but I do wonder quite often why at 50 years old I am still managing to be so overweight. I have tried every diet on the planet, I’m not a heavy drinker, and I walk my dog every day. Wondering if it’s something to do with the menopause and what I can try that I have not already tried? PS. I do like digestives but I honestly do not eat a packet in one sitting.

Prof. Baker says: There are lots of reasons why we put on weight and they tend to be interlinked. And clearly if I had the secret to losing weight I’d be sunning myself on a private island somewhere because it is an incredibly difficult thing to do. However, certainly, weight gain can be related to menopause. And it’s natural: very few people keep their girlish figure throughout their lives. As you enter menopause, your levels of oestrogen fall and this means you’re more likely to put on fat around your middle. Head to our advice on menopause and weight gain, and also check out other potential reasons for your weight gain based on your age with Healthily’s symptom checker

You mention exercise, and it’s great that you walk your dog and don’t drink much, but one other avenue to explore is how how much exercise you actually do – it’s one thing going for a five-mile hike with the dog, and it’s another thing letting your dog run around a park while you throw an occasional stick! It might be helpful to analyse how you exercise using the app – you can create custom trackers to track how you exercise – you can even plot different metrics against each other to see how they impact the other, such as the amount of time working out versus weight loss or gain. Healthily is also synced with Apple Health so the metrics from an Apple Watch can be automatically linked into Healthily’s tracker data.

“My back pain makes working at a desk almost unbearable.”

The last few years I’ve had terrible lower back problems, which makes it hard for me to exercise, which then makes it hard for me to build up the muscles around my back to get myself better. My job is deskbound so I do sit down for a lot of the day but when I use a ‘stand-up’ computer it also hurts! It’s a kind of stiffness more than a sharp pain, it’s made me very inflexible and I feel like I’m just getting tighter and tighter if that makes sense. I want to break out of the cycle, but worry about doing something to make it worse.

Prof. Baker says: This is a very common problem. If you work for a big enough company from home, you could ask for a work assessment to ensure you have the right chair, laptop at the right height, and the correct posture. Or use our online guide ‘Is your working from home setup secretly harming your back?’ to help pinpoint possible issues and fixes to the way you work. I’d wholeheartedly recommend Healthily’s Back Pain Hub. It’s a fantastic source of information; there’s a whole section on lower back pain – symptoms, diagnosis, pain relief, and chiropractic treatment. If you’re trying to manage a current back problem, start with how to manage and prevent back pain,which offers exercises for strengthening your lower back, easy yoga stretches and also a chatbot that helps to assess your symptoms. It will also tell you if you need to head to the doctor instead. 

“I drink alcohol every night. I think I might have a problem.”

I’m a bit worried about my alcohol consumption. Recently I’ve found that even on days where I promise I won’t drink I end up having a few glasses. My husband is starting to notice and I’ve taken to sneaking a glass or two in the kitchen (sometimes very fast) so that he doesn’t look disapproving. I’m worried that I am tipping into dependency. I don’t drink in the day or have more than a bottle in a sitting but am well aware that this is more than I should be drinking. How can I get some control back? I’m really ashamed of myself and can’t confide in my husband –partly because, ironically, I think he might stop me drinking altogether.

Prof. Baker says: If you think you have a problem, and your husband thinks you have a problem, then odds are you have a problem. “No more than a bottle in a sitting”? Well, that’s a lot and you’re going way over the recommended 14 units a week. But it’s great that you recognise you have an issue and it’s certainly something you should take action on. Most drinkers underestimate how much they drink so it’s a good idea to track your units of alcohol per week – that might be a rude awakening. You can do it on the Healthily premium app. There are also Ideas for how to cut down on drinking that are a really good starting point, with links to more specialised services such as DrinkAware and NHS Alcohol Support should you need them. Finally, I suggest you sit down and discuss it with your husband and say, “This isn’t right.It’s heading in the wrong direction”. Maybe this is something you can do together. But it has to be in a supportive, non-judgemental way. No one likes being spied on.

‘I’m losing my posture. Help!”

I’ve noticed recently that I’ve become very round shouldered. I work at a computer a lot which probably contributes. Are there any sports/ exercises I should or shouldn’t do to help?I want to sort it out before it becomes irreversible, it’s really ageing.

Prof. Baker says: I would suggest swimming backstroke – the chest muscles open up, the back does more work and the shoulders are in a helpful position for improving your posture. It puts you in the opposite position we take when hunching forward on our computers. If you can’t bear the pool, you could start by reading Healthily’s common posture mistakes and fixes. For more general back exercises, I’drecommend Healthily’s Back Pain Hub because although you’re not in pain, the exercises will be relevant. Pilates and yoga can both help core and back strength and improve posture. And if none of this helps, the next step I’d suggest is a physio or osteopath.

“I have weird lumps on my body. Should I panic?”

I have several weird lumps appearing on my body, mostly on my arms but also there’s one on my ribs. You can actually wiggle them so I know they’re not cancerous but what are they? They seem to be very slowly growing, the one on my upper arm is starting to create a slight ‘bingo wing’ which I’m getting self-conscious about. They hurt ever so slightly if I push them but otherwise they just sit there.

Prof. Baker says: This isn’t necessarily worrying. The likeliest thing is that these are lipoma cysts or ganglions, both of which are common and non serious – you can read more about skin cysts here. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to see a doctor and get them checked for peace of mind, but once the doctor is happy they’re not harmful, then really you just have to live with them. Sometimes cysts can get infected and need  treatment – but infected cysts often are drained and then just go away. Ganglions grow over muscles and can impede function; growing over a knuckle for instance. If they’re causing problems like that, the NHS will remove them with a minor surgical procedure. If you just don’t like them and want them gone, then you’d have to go private as the NHS would consider it a cosmetic procedure.

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