Dear doctor

Do I have RSI?

I use a keyboard all day, every day. I've begun to get pins and needles in both hands, especially the right - I'm right-handed - and pain in my wrist and forearm. My GP said it was carpal tunnel syndrome and offered an injection, which I didn't like the sound of. I thought it might be repetitive strain injury (RSI) but the doctor was dismissive.

RSI symptoms include pain, clumsiness and pins and needles. Moving the affected joint or lightly brushing the overlying skin causes pain. RSI sufferers may have a lower threshold for vibration along the median nerve so are more sensitive to repeated movements such as using a keyboard, playing a musical instrument or operating a checkout till. RSI pain is more diffuse than carpal tunnel syndrome and injections won't help. To prevent further pain, you should check your posture at work, take regular breaks (you're legally entitled to 20 minutes every six hours) and do hand exercises recommended by the RSI Association. Treatment remains tricky; specific pain-relieving drugs are being developed but general painkillers like paracetamol don't help. Most people improve once they stop the repetitive task. Help and information from the RSI Association: 0800 018 5012.

Is asthma hereditary?

Both my husband and myself had asthma as children and he still gets bad hayfever. I'm expecting our first baby soon - will it be asthmatic?

Your baby may be prone to allergic conditions such as eczema, asthma, hayfever and food allergies, but not necessarily. Obviously, you won't want to smoke in pregnancy or expose the baby to passive smoking. New evidence is emerging that exposure to house dust mites in infancy may trigger asthma. Consider mite-proof covers for beds, laying linoleum or wood in the baby's room instead of carpet, washing bed linen and soft toys on a high temperature wash every fortnight and using a high-filtration vacuum cleaner for carpets.

Chest pains

I'm a 53-year-old woman, a bit overweight, unfit and overstretched at work and home. I had a couple of bouts of chest pain last week. I took Rennies which didn't help but after a few minutes rest, the pain passed. I'm sure it's indigestion but how can I make sure it's not my heart?

Heart pain, or angina, happens when the heart is starved of oxygen. It's usually brought on by exertion; climbing the stairs, getting excited or angry, walking in cold weather, having a nightmare or during particularly exciting sex. The pain usually starts behind your breastbone and lasts 3-5 minutes. You may feel angina in the neck, throat and down your inner arms. It feels vice-like, as if a band is constricting your chest. Indigestion often comes on when you lie down, feels like a knife, makes you burp and feel sick, and spreads up to shoulder tips and between the shoulder blades. It's hard to distinguish between them sometimes. See your GP and get some tests (such as an exercise ECG) organised.

Stress and cancer

I have breast cancer. A cousin said that it may be because I've been through a lot in the past three years - divorce, my mother's death and my children leaving home. Is this true?

Many people believe that traumatic life events trigger cancer and serious illness. Severe stress can affect the immune system slightly. But there is no evidence that these minor and temporary changes cause cancer or make existing cancers more virulent. Information on all aspects of cancer from Cancer Bacup: 0808 800 1234.

These answers are intended to be as accurate and full as possible, but should never be used as a substitute for visiting a doctor and seeking medical help. If you have a question for Dr Robinson, email or write to her c/o The Health Editor, The Guardian, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER. She regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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