Common medical myths GPs often hear

As a GP, I've probably heard every excuse under the sun - in fact, some patients are so convinced Granny knew best, I do wonder why they bother to see the GP at all! Here are some of the best (or is it worst?) reasons my patients come up with.

Medicines - not 'one size fits all'

One of the patient habits doctors hate most is using someone else's medicines if their own have run out, or if they have 'the same' symptoms. At best, it makes it hard for your doctor to keep up on how well controlled your condition is. For instance, getting through too many 'reliever' inhalers can be an indicator that you're at high risk of a life-threatening asthma attack. So if you're using a lot of reliever medication but your doctor doesn't know because you've used provided to someone else, you could be at risk. At worst, it might be completely safe for someone else to use a medication, but dangerous for you because of interactions with other medicines you take.

There are expiry dates on drugs for a reason; they may not work and may not be safe if out of date. It's also never a good idea to share creams - they can pass on germs and give you an infection you never had to start with.

Some patients think they can fool me by taking their blood pressure medicines just for a couple of weeks before their check-up. That means their blood pressure will be normal when it's measured - but their overall risk of stroke is hugely raised. And we do keep tabs on how often you're ordering your repeat prescriptions!

Time to see straight!

Most of us take our eyes for granted, yet still can't resist avoiding 'bad habits' that seem to be so common in old wives' tales. For instance, reading in dim light doesn't damage your eyesight, although it can lead to them feeling strained and dry. Sitting too close to the television doesn't damage them either, although the bright light may give you a headache.

And no, eating carrots doesn't help you see in the dark! Apparently this old wives' tale started in the Second World War, when a public service campaign encouraged us all to eat more carrots for better night vision. Carrots are a good source of vitamin A, which does help protect the surface of the eye - but you can get plenty in your diet even if carrots leave you cold.

Puff and wind about smoking!

Lots of patients believe that cigarettes aren't harmful because they don't smoke regularly. This feels to me a bit like the myth that calories from chips don't count if you've pinched them from someone else's plate! In fact, just one cigarette a week is pretty much as bad for your heart as smoking eight a day. On the plus side, it should be a lot easier for you to give up than if you have a 10 a day habit, and within a year your risk of heart attack drops by almost half.

Getting outdoors in the cold doesn't stop colds

During the colder months of the year, I get dozens of patients requesting home visits for coughs and colds on the basis that it will make them sicker to go outside. Firstly, unless you have other long-term health conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), there's rarely anything a doctor can do. Your pharmacist is a much better bet, and you don't need an appointment to see them. Secondly, colds and coughs are caused by viruses, not by going out in cold weather. There is some evidence that getting very cold for hours at a time can lower your body's ability to fight off infection. And a sudden change in air temperature can trigger a bout of coughing. But wrapping up warmly and coming outside is just fine.

But never ignore these red flag warnings…

Very sadly, one of the reasons I hear (more from men than women) is 'I thought it would go away'. That may be true of the common cold, but it certainly isn't when it related to coughing up blood, losing weight for no reason, a lump in your breast or a host of other symptoms. The sadness is, most of these patients know their symptoms could mean cancer and bury their heads in the sand. Getting seen and treated early means better chance of long term survival - no excuses!

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. Patient Platform Limited 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.

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