For the past few weeks I’ve had terrible burning pains in my stomach and feel very sick every day. I am struggling to eat. The doctor says it’s gastritis, but I’m also suffering nauseating headaches. The GP won’t refer me for a scan.
Gastritis, when the stomach lining becomes inflamed, is an incredibly common problem.
It feels rather like constant indigestion, but the symptoms vary hugely in terms of severity. Some sufferers feel nausea and burning in the stomach, and vomit frequently, as well as feeling discomfort after eating. Others have no symptoms.
There are many possible causes of gastritis. It’s often triggered by eating or drinking certain things, such as alcohol, caffeine or spicy, acidic food. But smoking can cause it, as can regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Stress can lead to gastritis, and it can also be the result of a chronic bacterial infection called helicobacter pylori. Many people with the infection have no symptoms, but for some it will cause regular indigestion.
Today’s reader asks Dr Ellie Cannon about gastritis which has left her feeling constantly nauseous and unable to eat, which can be brought about by stress, eating spicy food and even smoking
It is important to take gastritis seriously because in some cases it can develop into severe problems, including stomach ulcers and even tumours.
A scan is not particularly useful in diagnosing gastritis. Instead, an endoscopy, or camera down the throat, would be able to detect inflammation. Tissue samples can also be taken.
This is an uncomfortable test but it is necessary if someone is so unwell they can’t eat, particularly over the age of 50 when cancer is more likely.
I had my flu jab a month ago and soon afterwards started getting a tingling in my lip on the left side, which gradually went down my arm. It soon became difficult to speak.
I thought I was having a mild stroke so I called an ambulance. By the time I got to hospital, my speech improved. Tests showed no trace of a bleed or clot.
I was told it was probably a bad migraine and sent home.
Can this really be right?
More from Dr Ellie Cannon for The Mail on Sunday…
When it comes to treating a stroke, acting fast is critical. You should call an ambulance or go to hospital as soon as the telltale signs start.
Signs of a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA, or mini-stroke, where symptoms stop within 24 hours) include weakness in the limbs, changes in speech, and changes in the face or numbness.
When patients are taken to hospital with a suspected stroke, urgent brain scans are performed to spot a potential blood clot or bleed. These scans will also reveal any damage to the brain that is characteristic of a stroke.
Heart tests, checking blood vessels in the neck and a general cardiovascular risk assessment will also be done.
If everything looks normal and the symptoms quickly resolve, it is fair that doctors may rule out a stroke or TIA.
Other conditions can cause very similar sudden symptoms – including migraines. These can also lead to difficulty speaking, pins and needles or numbness, as well as the more commonly known visual symptoms. A migraine is thus easily mistaken for a stroke, particularly if it comes with speech symptoms.
When it comes to treating a stroke, acting fast is critical. You should call an ambulance or go to hospital as soon as the telltale signs start
It is worth following up an event of this kind with a GP appointment. The GP will consider personal risk factors and may arrange further tests.
My best friend has been in chronic pain for at least five years and takes strong prescription painkillers daily.
She’s getting worse by the day and seems to be gaining weight, despite not being able to eat much.
Yet she still hasn’t received a diagnosis.
We often think doctors are there only to treat health problems. In fact, many patients who visit their GP won’t necessarily want treatment – they are looking for answers.
People often suffer symptoms for which, unfortunately, no physical cause can be identified. Studies show this could be the case for up to a quarter of appointments with a GP.
Do you have a question for Dr Ellie?
Email [email protected] or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT.
Dr Ellie can only answer in a general context and cannot respond to individual cases, or give personal replies. If you have a health concern, always consult your own GP.
Patients find the lack of answers very difficult. Often, understanding what is wrong is a big part of recovery.
Some have told me their family and friends have questioned that their symptoms even exist, after tests come back normal.
Chronic pain – in the muscles, joints, back and abdomen – is one of the most common unexplained health problems. It is very usual to hear of chronic-pain patients going from doctor to doctor, often paying privately for scans, but with no formal diagnosis or treatment. Sometimes, accepting that there is no physical cause of the symptoms is the first step to finding help.
A sensitive GP or mental health professional such as any psychologist could help with this.
Some patients find that reducing stress, exercising, using relaxation techniques and pausing medical investigations such as scans can help to ease symptoms.
We also recommend patients stop researching their symptoms online, as this heightens anxiety.
There are some clinics dotted around the country that specialise in helping people with medically unexplained symptoms, making use of talking therapies and medications.
Strangely, chronic painkiller use can make pain worse, so doctors help patients to wean themselves off the pills and try other methods – such as those mentioned above.
Professor’s predictions as reliable as a horoscope
Of all the scientists who share their pandemic predictions publicly, oddly there’s one who people seem to trust the most: Professor Neil Ferguson – the Government adviser who made headlines when he broke lockdown rules to meet up with his married lover.
Well, I must tell you his predictions are about as useful as a horoscope. He’s been known for his (inaccurate) gloomy predictions in the past and he was at it again this week, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today that lockdowns ‘can’t be ruled out’ in the effort to beat Omicron. People on Twitter were up in arms, resigning themselves to a miserable, isolated Christmas.
In fact, Ferguson [above] has been wrong just as often as he has been right. And his estimations often make no sense: he said we’d have 200,000 infections after freedom day in July but the next month predicted the pandemic would be over by the autumn.
Don’t hang on his, or any scientists’ every word when it comes to Covid. Unless perhaps they have a crystal ball.
Of all the scientists who share their pandemic predictions publicly, oddly there’s one who people seem to trust the most: Professor Neil Ferguson – the Government adviser who made headlines when he broke lockdown rules to meet up with his married lover
GP can help you bag a booster jab
I have a mailbag full of letters from readers still struggling to get their Covid booster jab.
Some have been unable to get a convenient appointment, while others are housebound and are left without any options.
In the first instance, see if your GP can help. Although we do not arrange the boosters in all areas, most surgeries have an administrator whose job it is to help organise the vaccination programme.
GPs will be aware of the local vaccine hubs, so can direct you to the appropriate centre. They can also help people who need an alternative type of vaccine, other than the Pfizer and Moderna ones given as standard, due to allergies.
I know it can be a nuisance to be on hold for ages when calling your GP surgery, but when you get through to a receptionist, they should be able to point you in the right direction.
If you’re still struggling, please write and tell me.