Floppy heart valve: do I need to worry?

I have recently had a Well Woman check-up and it was discovered that I have a floppy mitral heart valve. I have been told that this won't cause me any problems, apart from occasional palpitations. I also have to have antibiotics before I go to the dentist. Is this something that I was born with, or is it a sign of ageing? I am 42 and perfectly healthy otherwise.

Gallstones: should I have my gall bladder removed?

I have gallstones which are causing me chronic pain, but I am finding it difficult to get sensible advice. I have two sets of symptoms. Occasionally I get severe pain on the right side under the rib cage. This has happened only rarely, although it once culminated in an attack of jaundice in which my eyes and skin turned yellow. The other symptoms are more subtle, but still unpleasant: bloating, constipation and colicky pains. The doctors I have seen all recommend surgery to remove the gall bladder. It seems to me that this can only make things worse, as without a gall bladder, the flow of bile won't be regulated. What other treatments, apart from surgery, are possible?

Blood pressure: worries about salk intake

I am on a low-salt diet for my blood pressure and I am thinking of installing a water softener. Will the softened water contain much more salt than the hard water I am now drinking?

Facial pain: is this a real illness?

For many months I have been troubled by pains on the left side of my face and below my eye. Initially it was diagnosed as sinusitis, but it did not get better with several courses of antibiotics. I have had X-rays, an MRI scan and several bloods tests, all of which have come back as normal. After all this, I have been told that I have "atypical facial pain" and I have been put on a low dose of antidepressants. This is not because I am depressed - it is supposed to be treatment for the pain. I find the whole experience rather upsetting and confusing, and the pain seems no better. Is "atypical facial pain" a real illness, or am I being fobbed off?

Pregnancy: are test accurate?

How accurate are home pregnancy tests? Is it possible to be pregnant even though the test is negative on the day my period is due? And is it possible that a positive pregnancy test could be wrong?

Iritis: what's causing my eye trouble?

I have had three episodes of a painful eye over the past four years. Once it was the right eye, and twice it was the left. The first time it was diagnosed as conjunctivitis, but it didn't get better with antibiotic ointment. Eventually it became so painful that I went to the casualty department, where iritis was diagnosed. I was treated with steroid eye drops and it got better quite quickly. Since then it has come back twice for no apparent reason.

Maternity: ward worries

I am hoping to become pregnant soon but have discovered that my local maternity unit has one of the highest death rates in the country and has been placed under special measures. Do I have any choice about which hospital I must attend for maternity services? I live in London so there are lots of hospitals within easy reach. Is there any kind of league table for maternity services that would indicate those with a good reputation?

STD: can I avoid herpes?

Eighteen months ago my unfaithful husband caught genital herpes, which I have not caught. My GP has prescribed aciclovir as a short-term treatment for my husband. What can I do to prevent myself from catching herpes?

Thyroid nodules: I can't swallow

I have had thyroid problems and lots of nodules on my thyroid gland for many years. Now that the nodules have been zapped, I have to take thyroid replacement therapy for life. The problem now is that I have trouble swallowing food and liquids, and as a result I am severely underweight. Can you recommend someone who could help me?

Teething: does it really cause fever?

I have never believed the old wives' tale about a fever being a sign of teething, but yesterday my baby was miserable and developed a temperature of 38.5C. Our GP found no local signs of infection, so we thought she must have a non-specific viral infection. This morning, lo and behold, her first tooth arrived. Was this just a coincidence, or did the teething cause the fever?

Dementia: mind games

If physical exercise keeps the body young and healthy, does mental exercise do the same for the brain? Does a sudoku a day keep dementia away?

IBS: Syndrome or mone-spinner?

I've had digestive problems since my early twenties, and have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and "non-functional dyspepsia". A couple of years ago, in desperation, I tried a blood test for food intolerance, although I consider the ailment faddish. It indicated a low-grade intolerance of wheat and dairy. To my irritation and relief, if I cut out wheat and restrict dairy, I can drop my medications and feel better than when taking them. Now a friend has suggested that I might have "leaky gut syndrome", which has a plausible-sounding explanation for food intolerance. But when I Googled it, none of the sites were mainstream medical sites, and most sold costly supplements. Is this a real syndrome or a marketing ploy?

Endoscopy: something to fear?

I am due to have an endoscopy to discover the cause of stomach pains. The pains seem like indigestion, but are intermittent. Food doesn't make the pain better or worse - in fact, it seems unrelated to eating. My greatest fear is the endoscopy - I can't bear the thought of a flexible telescope being shoved down my throat. Will I be put to sleep?

Lipomas: living with lumps

I have several lumps on my lower arms, one on the base of my back and several on my thighs. Previously I've been told these were lipomas. Now three more small lumps have come up in a row along the middle of my inside forearm and my doctor has brought up the possibility that they could be an autoimmune disease that affects the connective tissue. I also have permanent hypothyroidism. Do you think this diagnosis is possible, and if it is, what kind of disease?

Head lice: nitting it in the bud

I have five daughters between the ages of 4 and 12 and I've found myself in a constant battle against head lice. I have tried pretty much everything but the treatments I am using don't seem to be doing the job anymore. I read in the newspapers recently that chemicals are now regarded as ineffective, and I am also quite concerned about putting chemicals on my children's hair and skin, especially the little ones. Is there an effective natural remedy I could try?

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