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by James Thomas, Friday, 25 May 2018 | Categories: General Health

Tips for Heartburn Sufferers

Many people suffer from the symptoms of heartburn, such as the taste of something bitter in the mouth, a sore throat, a chronic cough and fatigue, and are in desperate need of relief. Heartburn and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (also referred to simply as GERD), which is more serious, are a problem for millions. Four out of five sufferers will experience such symptoms at night, according to research, with the result being disturbed sleep and an impaired ability to function normally the following day. (1) The good news is that there are ways for heartburn sufferers to find relief from these symptoms, with the use of exercise and some simple diet and lifestyle tips.


There are a number of ways in which heartburn can be prevented by making changes to the food and drink you consume. Limiting the consumption of acidic foods like grapefruit, tomatoes, vinegar and oranges is a good idea, and spicy food such as chillies or pepper should also be avoided, if you have noticed a correlation between their consumption and bouts of heartburn. (2) You should try to avoid lying down for up to three hours after having eaten, as sitting up enables gravity to help food, as well as stomach acid, to drain naturally out of your stomach. Switch to non-fatty food and lean meat, as heartburn can be triggered by greasy foods such as cheeseburgers and chips. 

Those who suffer from GERD can help to avoid triggering symptoms of the condition by reducing the amount of chocolate, citrus, pepper, ketchup, mustard, mint, tomatoes and vinegar that they consume, as well by eating smaller meals in general. Eating too quickly can also cause heartburn, so pause between bites, and do not eat anything less than three hours before bedtime as this can trigger symptoms.


Beverages that should be avoided include alcohol, carbonated drinks and caffeine as they can trigger reflux. Many people love cola drinks, but they are also often connected to GERD symptoms and to reflux, so it might be time to start cutting back. GERD can also be worsened by alcohol as it relaxes the oesophageal sphincter, so you may want to consider going teetotal. (3)


There are also a number of simple changes you can make to your overall lifestyle that could help to relieve the symptoms of heartburn. One good tip is to avoid wearing tight clothes as the likes of tight belts and waistbands can press on the stomach and trigger heartburn. Stress can cause an increase in stomach acids, resulting in the boosting of heartburn symptoms, so it is advisable to take a look at your lifestyle to identify causes of stress, and do your best to remove or minimise them. If you are overweight, then heartburn could be another reason to go on a diet and try to shed some pounds, as excess weight makes it much more likely that stomach acid will be backed up into the oesophagus. 

If you find yourself using antacids several times in any given week then you may be suffering from GERD rather than heartburn, in which case you may require a more aggressive form of treatment. The oesophageal sphincter can be relaxed by nicotine, adding yet another to the list of health reasons why you should stop smoking. (4)


Symptoms are not always triggered by the same foods in everyone, so it is vital to keep track of when you suffer symptoms, in order to identify the foods that are triggers for you. You may even want to keep a diary or log of your heartburn incidents, so that identifying the cause is easier. Some people find they experience heartburn following exercise. If this is the case for you, then you may well need to drink more water, which assists with digestion as well as hydration. You should also wait up to two hours after eating before you exercise. (5) 

One method of avoiding heartburn is to chew gum, which can result in an increase in the amount of saliva your body produces, which in turn acts an effective neutraliser for stomach acids. Reflux can be worsened by certain medications, so it is a good idea to consult your doctor regarding alternatives and have a general discussion as to how to manage reflux.


(1) http://journal.chestnet.org/article/S0012-3692(15)34708-5/fulltext

(2) https://www.healthline.com/health/gerd/diet-nutrition

(3) https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/features/top-10-heartburn-foods

(4) https://www.georgiarefluxsurgery.com/lifestyle/nicotine-and-heartburn

(5) http://www.gaviscon.co.uk/news-information/gaviscon-news/exercise-and-heartburn/

by James Thomas, Saturday, 07 April 2018 | Categories: General Health

Pain, like many other human experiences, is largely subjective. Depending upon a certain person’s medical history and life story, they may experience a painful incident, such as stubbing their toe or having a migraine, in an entirely different manner to a friend or family member. Because of this, pain can often be difficult to treat.

The good news is that our understanding of how pain works is improving every day. In the past few years, more attention has been drawn to painful conditions that specifically affect women, such as endometriosis; in this article from The New Republic, the writer argues that "Too often, a woman’s pain is not merely met with doubt, but suspicion", and explains the various ways in which women are now fighting back against this prejudice.

In addition to shifts in how we think about pain, we’re also seeing improvements in the field of pain management. Just recently, researchers designed a new compound which successfully treated neuropathic pain in animals.

For pain sufferers, in other words, things look set to improve over the next few years. In the meantime, one of the best ways to stay on top of pain symptoms is to be well informed. If you’d like to know more about pain management, read on for a guide to the various types of pain, and how they can be treated.

Acute Pain vs Chronic Pain 

The most common pain categories are acute and chronic. Acute pain is pain that comes on suddenly and is limited in its duration; chronic pain, by contrast, is more permanent in nature. Acute pain is more likely to be caused by damage to the body, while chronic pain is more likely to be caused by a long-term condition – although it can also arise as a result of injury.

Chronic pain can be resistant to medical treatment, and pain medication is not always sufficient. It’s believed that episodes of "breakthrough pain" are experienced by 70% of people who suffer from chronic pain (1). This is where the sufferer has a flare-up of pain, despite being on regular medication. Because chronic pain can be resistant to medical treatment in this way, it can lead to depression and anxiety, which can in turn worsen the symptoms.

Nociceptive Pain vs Neuropathic Pain

After the categories of acute and chronic, pain is most often categorised by whether it is nociceptive, relating to tissue damage, or neuropathic, relating to nerve damage (2).

Pain from tissue damage is more common than pain from nerve damage. You may experience nociceptive pain from injury to your bones, soft tissue or organs, or as a result of a disease. Pain from tissue damage can be acute or chronic, and is often sharp, throbbing or dull.

Neuropathic pain occurs when the nerves are damaged. People who suffer from neuropathic pain often experience a burning sensation and sensitivity in the affected areas. Other symptoms include pins and needles, difficulty sensing different temperatures, and numbness (3).

With both nociceptive and neuropathic pain, mental and emotional problems such as depression can worsen the pain symptoms. This is sometimes referred to as psychogenic pain.

Conditions that Cause Pain

There are a variety of conditions that can cause chronic pain or repeating episodes of acute pain. These include:

  • Cluster headaches, sudden attacks of pain on one side of the head (usually around the eye)
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which is usually triggered by an injury and causes severe, ongoing pain in the affected area
  • Slipped disc, where the tissue between two vertebrae pushes out and causes back pain
  • Arthritis, where the joints become inflamed and painful
  • Sickle cell disease, which can cause a sudden episode of pain known as a "pain crisis"
  • Endometriosis, a condition that affects women and causes chronic pain which is particularly acute when menstruating

These are just a few of the conditions that can cause ongoing pain symptoms. If you are suffering from pain and you aren’t sure of the cause, you should make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.

Treating Pain

As we’ve discussed, pain isn’t always easy to treat. However, there are a huge number of different options available to try. To receive a free online assessment regarding your pain, visit our Pain Management Clinic. We can give advice on treatment options and prescribe a range of safe painkillers.


(1) https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/pain-types-and-classifications#1-2

(2) https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/pain-types-and-classifications#2-3

(3) https://www.brainandspine.org.uk/neuropathic-pain

by James Thomas, Thursday, 16 November 2017 | Categories: General Health

Antibiotics: Mixed Messages for Patients

Scientific discoveries are happening all the time, and sometimes a new piece of research will come along to dispel everything we thought we knew.

The most recent debate to crop up regards antibiotic resistance. All approved guidance currently relating to antibiotic use tells us that finishing a course of antibiotics is vital, even if we begin to feel better within a couple of days. Now, experts have begun to argue something very different.

A team of UK researchers published a short opinion piece in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) in July, claiming that there is not enough evidence to suggest that cutting short a course of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance.

One of the researchers, Professor Martin Llewelyn, suggested that long courses were "outdated" and that there is now plenty of evidence that short courses of three to five days work just as well. In his opinion, antibiotics should be prescribed on a case by case basis, tailored towards each patient and their specific infection, and not simply administered in the same way every single time.

While these researchers are not putting forward the idea that patients be allowed to judge themselves when they stop a course, there is concern amongst the medical community that this sort of guidance could end up causing confusion.

Not enough research has been done into the "stop when you feel better" model of antibiotic use, and for that reason Public Health England has recommended that patients continue to follow the advice of their prescribing doctor.

Correct Antibiotic Use

As well as taking the full course of antibiotics that you have been prescribed (whether or not you begin to feel better before the end of the course), there are a few things you can bear in mind if you wish to avoid contributing to antibiotic resistance.

The first thing to know is that antibiotics are only an appropriate treatment in the case of a bacterial infection. They have no effect upon viral infections. The common cold and flu are two types of viral infection, which cannot be treated with antibiotics. 

If you become unwell with a cold, you may be tempted to visit your doctor and ask for antibiotics, but it is always best to wait the infection out, resting at home and taking over-the-counter cold treatments. You should typically only visit your GP if your cold has not cleared after three weeks, or if the symptoms are getting noticeably worse.

The flu tends to be more serious, and you should visit your doctor if you fall into a certain at-risk group such as being over 65 or pregnant. Bear in mind, however, that antibiotics are not an appropriate treatment for the flu, and that the best way to avoid it if you are in an at-risk group is to get the annual flu jab.

Avoiding Infection

If you want to avoid taking antibiotics, one of the best things you can do is to protect yourself against bacterial infections. You can prevent germs from spreading by following the kinds of hygiene tips set out by the NHS here.

Another way to avoid infection is to always practise safe sex. Many STIs are bacterial, which means they should be treated with antibiotics. The problem is that STIs such as gonorrhoea have begun to develop antibiotic-resistant strains, which can be very difficult to treat.

To avoid STIs, you should always:

  • Use condoms during penetrative sex when you aren’t sure your partner is free from infection
  • Use dental dams and condoms during oral sex
  • Avoid sharing sex toys unless they have been cleaned or covered in a new condom

You can read more about the risks associated with specific sexual activities here.

Remember that it’s important to get tested regularly if you’re engaging in any risky sexual behaviours. Getting diagnosed early makes treatment easier and reduces the risk of complications; it will also stop you from passing the infection on to others.

by James Thomas, Saturday, 08 July 2017 | Categories: General Health

In 2017, vegetarianism and veganism are more popular than they have ever been. And yet, for those of us who still eat meat, there’s not much that a vegan campaigner could say to deter us from sinking our teeth into a juicy burger or our Sunday roast beef – until, that is, they start talking about the health risks.

We all know that eating too much red meat is not good for us, largely because it increases our risk of bowel cancer. Now, though, it seems that red meat could be worth avoiding for another health reason altogether: diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis is a condition affecting the colon, also known as the large intestine. It begins with diverticular disease, in which small bulges and pockets develop in the lining of the colon. Diverticulitis refers to a later stage of the condition, in which these pockets become inflamed or infected.

Diverticulitis Symptoms

The symptoms of diverticulitis include pain in the abdomen, particularly after eating; bloating; and a change in your bowel habits. It can also cause flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, feeling unwell, nausea, and vomiting. Diverticulitis can also lead to some unpleasant complications such as bleeding, urinary problems and the development of an abscess or fistula. In rarer cases, diverticulitis can lead to life-threatening conditions such as intestinal obstruction and peritonitis, both of which can require surgery.

According to research carried out recently, the unpleasant condition described above carries a clear association with the consumption of red meat. To get specific, data collected on 46,461 men between 1986 and 2012 indicated that those in the highest one-fifth for red meat consumption had a 58% increased risk for diverticulitis. Researchers suspect that red meat causes inflammation in the colon, which leads to the development of diverticulitis.

This is concerning because, while it’s common to be aware of the bowel cancer risk associated with eating red meat, many people will never have heard of diverticulitis. As a result they may they putting themselves at risk of developing the condition by eating too much red meat – this is a particular concern for people who fall into the following high-risk categories:

  • People who smoke
  • Being obese or overweight
  • Frequent use of anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen
  • Having a history of constipation
  • Having a family member with diverticular disease

It’s also thought that diverticular disease and diverticulitis are associated with not eating enough fibre.

The good news is that there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself from developing diverticulitis – and they don’t just revolve around cutting out red meat.

Preventing Diverticulitis

The first piece of advice that many doctors will give to someone with diverticular disease is to increase fibre intake. You can increase your fibre intake by consuming more fruits and vegetables, and eating starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, and brown pasta and rice. Pulses and beans are a particularly good source of fibre, as are nuts.

Other preventative measures include quitting smoking, losing weight and exercising more. Going by the study mentioned above, it’s also a good idea to limit your consumption of red meat – the NHS recommends that you should eat no more than 70g of red meat and processed meat a day. As explained by The Telegraph here, that equates to just under 500g of red meat and processed meat a week, which means that, over the course of seven days, you could eat one steak, one pork chop, two pork sausages and a portion of Bolognese sauce.

Treating Diverticulitis

If you do develop diverticulitis, it may be that it can be treated safely at home with a course of antibiotics. During this time you may be advised to stick to a liquids-only and later a low-fibre diet, to avoid putting too much strain on your colon. Once the diverticulitis has been treated, you will likely be advised to adopt a high fibre diet. It can also be helpful to lose weight, quit smoking and start exercising more.

If the condition is more serious, you may require hospital treatment and even surgery. You can read more about these treatments via the NHS.

Find out more about diverticulitis at our diverticulitis page.

by James Thomas, Thursday, 06 July 2017 | Categories: Eyes | General Health

Surfers and swimmers may be at a heightened risk of developing gastroenteritis due to the amount of sewage, laden with bacteria, entering the sea, according to new research. 

Activities such as diving and kayaking that bring people into contact with the sea can also increase the chances of developing a number of other illnesses. These include infection of the ears, eyes, throat and nose, as well as stomach aches, scientists are claiming. The University of Exeter’s Dr Anne Leonard, who is carrying out additional research covering the risk to bathers in the United Kingdom, says current research indicates that recreational activities in coastal waters are causing an increasing number of illnesses. 

Marine activities may also be increasing the chance of being infected with strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, like E. coli, which have been detected off the UK coast for the first time in large quantities by scientists. However, more research is required in order to confirm these findings, as, up to now, studies have relied upon symptoms being reported by swimmers themselves, making it uncertain whether they really were infected by these types of bacteria.

The path of the bacteria

Dr William Gaze, also of the University of Exeter, led the antibiotic resistant bacteria study, which has highlighted the extent to which a multitude of different kinds of bacteria are entering the sea. The bacteria arrive in the ocean by being passed into the sewage system via the human digestive tract, eventually entering rivers, and finally the ocean, when heavy rain causes sewers to overflow. Dr Gaze discovered that antibiotic resistant E. coli was being swallowed by swimmers and surfers in enough quantities to cause a genuine exposure risk. This makes it a real possibility that that exposure could result in infection, although that has yet to be confirmed.

A real mouthful

In a typical surfing session, participants tend to swallow about 1/6th of a litre of seawater, and that polluted water could contain up to 750 E.coli bugs that are resistant to antibiotics, according to Dr Gaze. However, there is a much lower risk of infection or exposure in the great majority of bathing waters, which have already been judged as meeting with water quality standards. 

Additional research is being carried out by Gaze’s team in order to learn more about the potential health risks inherent in seawater sports. Gaze admits that very little is really known about the way in which antibiotic resistant bacteria can be spread to humans by the natural environment, or how health could be impacted by exposure to such microbes. Given that millions of people spend time on beaches every year, increasing the risk of resistant E. coli being ingested, there could be an even higher level of exposure to resistant bacteria for all water users. 

Gaze’s team discovered that although just 0.12 percent of all E. coli located in coastal waters (and in rivers connected to beaches) were resistant to the important antibiotics class known as 3GCs, or third generation cephalosporins, that amount of concentration was still high enough to pose a potential exposure risk to those making use of the waters.

The Beach Bum survey

A novel experiment known as the Beach Bum survey has been devised by researchers at Exeter University, in order to learn more about the dangers to human health of ocean bacteria. 

150 body-boarders and surfers, who use the ocean three times every month as a minimum, were recruited and provided with a cotton bud. The participants could then self-perform a rectal swab, and hand the results in for examination. Those results are now being analysed by Dr Anne Leonard, in a bid to see what the swabs reveal about the bacteria content in their guts. It's hoped that this analysis could yield vital information about the level of risk caused by bugs that are resistant to antibiotics in our oceans. 

The study’s recruitment process was led by Andy Cummins from Surfers Against Sewage, a campaign group. Cummins says the aim is to have a clearer idea of the risks of entering the water. The study has now been completed, and the findings are expected to be published before long.

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