Due to our 24/7 stressful lifestyles anxiety is one of the most common mental conditions in Britain. Hypochondria, which is a form of health anxiety, makes you constantly worry about symptoms that you don’t really have.
To help you differentiate severe conditions from normal bodily functions, we asked our experts to put together The Ultimate Hypochondriac’s Health Guide:
Is it an upset stomach or is it Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Any change in your digestion or gut function can cause great anxiety and distress not to mention physical discomfort. In some cases it’s easy to point a finger at the cause but thankfully, food poisoning is not difficult to miss. ‘The fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea can be severe but tend to clear after 24 – 48 hours. It would be difficult to confuse this with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),’ explains Shona Wilkinson, Head Nutritionist at www.nutricentre.com.
IBS tends to be a more chronic problem and can be characterised by wind, bloating and fluctuating bowel motions, from loose to constipated. ‘However, post infective IBS is often overlooked and can go untreated for a long time. This occurs when the inflammation and infection, which was responsible for the food poisoning, leaves the delicate bowel lining over-sensitive long after the initial infection passes. Such super-sensitivity makes the gut react to its own natural movements, causing cramping pains that are often only eased by passing wind or going to the toilet,’ adds Wilkinson.
Getting to the bottom of IBS will require an accurate diagnosis and the help of a good naturopath to guide you through the good and bad foods for your bowels. ‘Both forms, however, benefit from taking a good probiotic supplement such as ProVen Adult 25 Billion (www.provenprobiotics.co.uk, £13.95),’ advises Nutritionist, Cassandra Barns.
Is it a headache or a migraine?
It’s not uncommon to hear people complain of a migraine when they are actually suffering from a bad headache. That’s not to say that the bad headache is a mere trifle of a symptom but a migraine is a true organic neurological disease.
Tension headaches are common and can be severe. They tend to be generated by a mixture of physical and emotional stress and tension. Muscles in the neck and shoulders tighten up and restrict the neck movement. This – in turn – causes pains to be felt over the back of the head, often ending up behind one eye or over the temple. Some tension headaches are reported as being like having a sweatband tightened around the head’ explains Wilkinson.
A migraine, on the other hand, is a complex mixture of chemical and circulatory irregularities that ultimately cause head pain. ‘Migraines can have various contributing factors. These may include hormone imbalances or changes (they often occur around menstruation in women), a sluggish digestion, an over-burdened liver, nutrient deficiencies, stress, food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances, dental problems and even genetic predisposition,’ adds Cassandra.
What is the difference? ‘Migraines follow a two-phase attack. The initial symptoms include flashing lights in the eyes (related to a reduction in circulation) followed by the pounding headache (as the circulation changes again and blood vessels expand and push on the pain sensitive covering of the brain.)’ adds Wilkinson.
To help reduce your migraines, try the following tips:
-Balance your blood sugar by eating three good meals a day-Common foods that may trigger a migraine include cured meats, alcohol (especially red wine), chocolate, citrus fruits and strong cheeses
-Make sure you’re drinking enough water – usually between 1.5 and 2 litres a day is generally advised – and avoiding sugary drinks including fruit juices
-Eat more magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, beans and pulses, and green leafy vegetables
-Try a B vitamin supplement. Its thought that the cause of the pain in migraines is abnormal nerve activity. B vitamins contribute to normal nervous system function. In particular, vitamin B2 may be effective in preventing or reducing occurrence of migraines. As it’s best to take B vitamins together, try Quest Mega B Complex (www.revital.co.uk, £9.29) taking one tablet a day with breakfast,’ says Cassandra.
Is it back pain or hip arthritis?
Pain that originates over the lower back and is felt to run into the hip area and across into the groin is a common complaint. The big question is: is it a back or hip problem?
‘Lower back pain is a real plague. We all sit far too much and this does our lower backs no favors at all. Over time, the discs thin and the joints in the spine wear a bit, causing the typical stiff back and hips complaints,’ explains Shona.
However, when the pain starts to run into the groin and sometimes along the front of the thigh towards the knee confusion can set in. ‘Typically if it is a mechanical or degenerative lower back pain, it tends to ease up when the person starts to get moving. You can imagine the back oiling up a bit,’ explains Wilkinson.
What to do when that happens? ‘Staying active is crucial: keep moving to help mobilise the spine and keep muscles toned. Pilates is an effective way to manage back pain as it improves your core stability, keeps you supple and enables you to move mindfully with ease and with control,’ says Pilates guru, Lynne Robinson, a founder of Body Control Pilates and Back4Good programme.
‘With hip arthritis, walking tends to aggravate the situation as the worn out regions of the hip rub together causing pain and a limp. One of the first movements to be lost in hip arthritis is the ability to turn the leg inwards, so that the foot points in. This is termed internal rotation of the hip and is the cause of the groin pain. An x-ray of the region will confirm the diagnosis but, as a rule, consider the hip as the main cause of pain if its worse for walking,’ says Shona.
‘Glucosamine and celadrin are safe and effective in both situations but need to be taken for a good two – three months in some cases before improvements may be felt. Try Nature’s Plus Ageloss Joint Support (www.revital.co.uk, £41.75), which contains not only glucosamine but also hyaluronic acid and four essential collagen types that help rebuild and rejuvenate cartilage and joints,’ says Michela Vagnini, Nutritionist at Nature’s Plus.
Is it eczema or psoriasis?
In some cases skin conditions are notoriously difficult to identify. Both eczema and psoriasis cause red irritant rashes that can appear for the first time at any point in life and both can be stress related.
However, it is easy to distinguish what skin condition it is by just looking at places where it appears. ‘In the case of eczema, the rash tends not to follow a regular shape or distribution over the body. Psoriasis, on the other hand, typically has a round, raised, disc-like appearance and occurs on the outer surfaces of the arms and legs or around the trunk and in the scalp. When eczema hits it tends to be found in the creases of the body such as the back of the knee, the groin, in the armpit and bend of the elbow. The two skin rashes tend to stick to this pattern of distribution which can be a real help when trying to decide what rash is what.’ explains Wilkinson.
In general, both skin problems can be helped by boosting the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax oil, and by applying a good natural moisturizer ‘Keeping the skin moist and nourished from the outside is crucial, as it can bring instant relief from itchiness and discomfort. However, emollient creams that are often recommended by doctors and pharmacists, rarely provide long-term relief. What’s more, they can even irritate already inflamed skin, as very often they contain chemicals, such as chlorocresol and cetearyl alcohol. Instead, try a natural cream or balm, such as What Skin Needs Skin Balm (www.whatskinneeds.co.uk, £13.99), which contains a blend of natural ingredients including Plantolin along with Aloe Vera extract and tea tree essential oil, these can help to manage skin conditions by reducing inflammation and oxidative damage.’ says Sonja Dymalovski, Skincare Expert at What Skin Needs.