Hard health habits to break?

We hear an awful lot in the media these days about 'my rights' and of course it's your right to stick with your unhealthy habits - but you have so much to gain by breaking them for good ...

We hear an awful lot in the media these days about 'my rights', and nearly as much about health and safety gone mad. On the one hand, there are tales of a school banning triangle-shaped flapjacks in case one was thrown and the pointy bit hurt a pupil (no, I'm not making it up!). At the other end of the spectrum, governments are being taken to court to stop them putting graphic pictures of the damage done by smoking onto cigarette packets.

Of course it's your right to stick with your unhealthy habits - but you have so much to gain by breaking them for good. We're incredibly lucky in the UK to have a health service which is free to you when you need it. When I first became a GP over 20 years ago, almost all my time was taken up with treating illness. Now, we all recognise that it makes health sense, and sense for our economy, to help people stay healthy. That's why there has never been more help than there is today in your GP's surgery to help you break those bad habits.

Why can't I lose weight and keep it off?

Being overweight contributes to heart disease, osteoarthritistype 2 diabetes and breathing problems - and two thirds of UK adults fall into the overweight or obese category. At least half the adults in the UK have tried losing weight at some point - often many times. But all too often they resort to 'quick fix' crash diets. They may lose a lot in the first few weeks, but very limited low calorie diets are dull and can cause tiredness, constipation and other symptoms. What's more, 90% of people who go on diets regain all the weight (and more) within a year.

Losing weight - how can I make it happen?

Just occasionally weight gain is down to a medical cause like underactive thyroid gland. But this is the exception rather than the rule. For most people, losing weight and keeping it off isn't about popping a daily pill. The most effective solution for long term weight loss isn't going on a diet - it's adopting a new lifestyle. That means making changes that work with your life and that you can maintain long term. Keep a food (and drink and exercise) diary for a week or two, and take it along to your practice nurse. She can help you work out your personal pitfalls and help you avoid them. You may be amazed how small improvements add up. Alternatively, log on to MyHealth to get an idea of which changes in your life could help your weight, as well as your general health.

Alcohol - how much is too much?

Do you worry about your loved one's drinking? Do you drink more than you should? Or are you just not sure if you're putting your health at risk? There has been a lot of confusion in recent years among my patients over recommended limits and whether for some people alcohol will do more good than harm. In fact, all the health messages are consistent. While there may be some benefit in terms of heart health for men over 40 and women past the menopause from drinking one to two units a day, drinking more than this doesn't offer any further protection and harm soon adds up. So the recommended limits still apply to everyone.

Your GP will be able to offer advice about whether you need help, support if you do and details of who you can speak to in complete confidence.

Stop smoking - make today the day you decide!

It's impossible for anyone who reads my patient.info blog not to know about the dangers of smoking. Given the huge range of medical problems it contributes to, rarely a week goes by without my slipping in another good reason to quit. But like every doctor, I'm all too well aware of how addictive smoking is. The average smoker has tried to quit without success four times and one in five goes back to the evil weed within a day.

Some determined souls manage to succeed by going 'cold turkey', but only one in 33 is still smoke-free a year later. Yet even a single chat with your GP can increase your chances of success by a third. Your GP or practice nurse will be delighted to help you tailor a strategy that gives you the best possible chance of being a non-smoker for good. Sometimes that will include using one of a wide range of nicotine replacement products; sometimes a course of tablets; but always a plan that helps you know your personal triggers and how best to avoid them.

Medication overuse headaches

After migraine and tension-type headache, chronic headaches actually caused by taking painkillers are the commonest kind of headaches in the UK. Combination painkillers containing codeine are the worst culprits, but even simple paracetamol can trigger headaches if taken too often. Many people don't think to tell their doctor about painkillers they buy without prescription. If you get frequent headaches and take painkillers more than every other day on average for paracetamol and anti-inflammatory tablets, or more than twice a week for codeine-containing painkillers or triptan migraine tablets, speak to your GP.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.