Health: Dr Ann Robinson answers your questions

Is he autistic?


I'm desperately worried about my three-year-old son. His speech is reasonable but he doesn't speak much and seems to live in a world of his own. He started nursery recently which I was hoping would make him more sociable, but the nursery teachers say he plays on his own and gets very upset if interrupted. With all this talk about the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella - which he had), I'm worried that he may be autistic. How can I find out if there's anything wrong?


Once you get it into your head that your child may have a serious problem, I think it's better to grasp the nettle and get an expert assessment. You may be worrying about nothing, but why not speak to your health visitor and GP and ask for referral to a community paediatrician for an assessment?

The three major aspects of autism are difficulty with social interaction, communication, and imagination. Highly repetitive behaviour such as insisting on one video over and over again can be another sign, though to a certain extent all toddlers do that.

A Checklist for Autism in Toddlers is available from the National Autistic Society (NAS) and provides a useful indicator as to whether you have grounds for concern. Early diagnosis opens the door to professional support and educational assistance and helps your child to progress so don't be fobbed off until you're satisfied that you've had an expert assessment. NAS Parent helpline: 0870 600 8585.

Polycystic ovaries


I have very irregular periods and have been told that I have polycystic ovaries. I am very worried about this and don't know the long-term implications. Does it mean I will find it hard to get pregnant? Will it cause me increased risk of cancer of the ovaries? How can I get more information?


One third of UK women are estimated to have polycystic ovaries, which means that there are 10 or more cysts on each ovary. One third of women with these ovarian cysts also have symptoms such as unwanted facial hair, acne, erratic periods and particular difficulty losing excess weight. The ovarian cysts together with the symptoms are known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). You are at increased risk of diabetes because resistance to the effects of insulin is part and parcel of PCOS.

As far as I know, there's no increased risk of ovarian cancer. For most women, it is dealing with the symptoms which is most important. Erratic or absent periods may become a major concern when you're trying to get pregnant. Losing excess weight often helps many of the symptoms and helps to prevent diabetes.

The drug Metformin, which is used to treat diabetes, can aid weight loss if all else fails. Clomid can kick-start your ovaries into action if they remain sluggish. The oral contraceptive pill may help control excess hair and avoid osteoporosis. Most women with PCOS never know they've got it and get pregnant without any trouble.

PCOS self-help group: Verity 52-54 Featherstone Street, London EC1Y 8RT.

Is football crazy?


I'm a 48-year-old, rather unfit and tubby man. Football has been a spectator sport for me since I left school. But now my son has persuaded me to join a fathers' five-a-side team. We had a training session last week which practically killed me. The next day, I could hardly move I was so stiff and achey. But I did enjoy it - especially the social afterwards. Is it safe to continue?


It's great that you've got off the couch and on to the pitch, but I'd advise a little caution. You've leapt from nothing to all in terms of aerobic exercise. You should ideally try to make the football the centrepiece of your exercise programme, but have two or three shorter bouts of gentle exercise on other days. A 20-minute jog or a swim would do.

Before the game, warm up properly, get a physiotherapist or coach to show you how to stretch and follow a warm-down routine. If you experience any chest pain or the shortness of breath doesn't improve, you need to have a check up of your lungs and heart.

• 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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