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The explosion of internet information has prompted a lot of 'cyberchondria', which often means patients are worrying about symptoms that are frequently harmless," says Dr Steve Hambleton, president of the Australian Medical Association.
"On the other hand, the internet can also cause the other problem, where people self-diagnose instead of going to talk to their doctor."
We asked Australia's leading medics to explain what the good (harmless), bad (may need medical attention) and ugly (serious) symptoms of common health problems may mean.
The good: Calf pain may be due to muscular strain or even referred pain from the back, hip or knee.
The bad: "Calf pain can also be caused by underlying varicose veins," says vein Dr Adrian Lim. To ease the pain, don't stand up or sit in the same position for long periods or sit with crossed legs. Avoid hot baths and stick your legs in a bucket of cold water instead. Also,
it's a good idea to invest in compression stockings or support pantyhose."
The ugly: "If pain is localised in one calf, with swelling and skin that feels hot and tender, this can indicate deep vein thrombosis," says Lim. "Rarely, these can be fatal and if you also have a cough or have difficulty breathing you may have a pulmonary embolism or blocked blood vessel in the lung. Go to your emergency ward immediately."
The good: Sometimes diarrhoea that is constant may be caused by anxiety or medications, especially antibiotics, so see your doctor to rule these out first.
The bad: Lactose intolerance (where you lack the enzyme lactase in your intestine) or coeliac disease (a sensitivity to gluten, found in wheat and some other cereal grains). Other causes of diarrhoea include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), especially if there is cramping or other abdominal symptoms, says allergy and immunology specialist Dr Alex Lozynsky.
The ugly: A possible sign of Crohn's disease (a serious bowel disorder), ulcerative colitis or colon cancer. See your doctor immediately if you are also losing weight or there is blood in your stool.
The good: In most cases feeling dizzy
or faint is not a life-threatening condition. "Sometimes light-headedness or faintness can be caused by low blood pressure, which gets worse on a hot day or if you're dehydrated," says Hambleton. It can also be a side effect of medications, dehydration or hormones (ie, you may get dizzy during a period).
The bad: "Another cause of faintness is a drop in blood sugar levels which can be helped by drinking three-quarters of a cup of orange juice or eating a few jellybeans. A tip, if you're feeling dizzy, is to raise your arms over your head, yawn, or if you're seated lean forward to increase blood flow to the brain." Dizziness can also be caused by allergies to dust or moulds, or inner ear infection.
The ugly: "See your doctor straight away if dizziness is constant or severe. In the worst case scenario it may be a sign of heart disease or diabetes as a hardening of the arteries will
cause dizziness," says Hambleton. In rare cases, tumours and syphilis
can also cause dizziness.
For the full story, see the July issue of Good Health. Subscribe to Good Health and receive a FREE La Mav Intense Moisture Nightly Repair Nectar, valued at $69.95.