Health: A Question of Health

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MY WIFE had an attack of shingles years ago and she is still plagued by pain which seems to be completely unaffected by painkillers. Is there anything else that can be done to help her?

The pain that remains after an acute attack of shingles can be extremely distressing and ordinary painkillers often do not help. A tiny dose of antidepressant is certainly worth trying, and there are other medicines, such as anti-epilepsy drugs, which are sometimes effective. The real experts in this field are anaesthetists who run specialised pain clinics, and that is where your wife should go for further help.

IF THE recommended daily dose of vitamin C is 60mg, why do chemists sell tablets containing 250, 500 and even 1,000mg? What is a sensible dose of vitamin C?

Healthy people who eat a diet that contains fresh fruit, vegetables and potatoes (particularly new potatoes) do not need any extra vitamin C. If you are ill, or elderly, your vitamin C intake may be low because of a poor diet, and there is a widespread belief that huge doses of vitamin C can cure or even prevent the common cold. There is also some evidence to suggest that the antioxidant vitamins, including vitamins C and E, may cut the risk of cancer and heart attacks. However, a sensible dose of vitamin C can be achieved, without tablets, by eating a diet that includes at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day.

I HAVE recently started taking the contraceptive pill and I have developed a patch of brown skin on my forehead. Could this be caused by the Pill?

The medical name for this is chloasma, and it is caused by the extra oestrogen in the Pill. Pregnant women also sometimes get these patches of increased pigmentation for the same reason. There is no way to make this go away, but coming off the Pill will prevent any more patches appearing.

MY NEWBORN baby has a hernia around his belly-button about the size of a golf ball. Will he need an operation?

Umbilical hernias can seem enormous, but nearly all of them disappear without any treatment. In 15 years of practice I have never seen an umbilical hernia that needed to be repaired with an operation. But you must be patient about it. It can take several years for the muscles around the navel to become sufficiently strong to make the hernia disappear. This type of hernia is much more common in Afro-Caribbean babies than in white babies.

Please send questions to A Question of Health, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail to Dr Kavalier cannot respond personally to questions