Your health questions answered

'Why are some medicines not sold in the UK?'
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Indy Lifestyle Online


Q. Many of my friends and colleagues, when on holiday, buy "over the counter" medicines not available in the UK - mainly Tylenol and melatonin. Why are these not available in the UK? Is it legal to bring back large quantities for distribution to friends and family?

A. Tylenol is a US trade name for paracetamol. Paracetamol is available over the counter in the UK, so it would be silly to import Tylenol. Melatonin was available from health-food shops in the UK before 1995, but it was banned from general sale on the grounds that it was a medicinal product (previously, it was considered a nutritional supplement). It is not available from pharmacies because it does not have a licence for sale as a medicine. People use melatonin to overcome jet lag. It's supposed to work by resetting the body's time-clock, tricking the brain into thinking it is night when the body still thinks it is daytime. You can buy melatonin on the internet, and abroad. It is not illegal to bring it back and not illegal to possess it. But you would be breaking the law if you imported large quantities for distribution or sale, because you would be selling or supplying an unlicensed medicinal product.


Q. Is a high pulse rate a cause for concern? I am a 69-year-old male, with a relatively low blood pressure reading of about 120/80. My pulse averages 90-95 beats a minute. I believe myself to be in good health and fit, average weight for my height, a non-smoker and I eat a sensible diet.

A. The British Heart Foundation says the "normal" adult heart rate is between 60 and 90 beats per minute. The US National Institutes of Health defines "normal" as 60-100 beats per minute. So your heart rate is on the borderline between normal and fast. There are various pathological causes for a fast heart rate, such as an overactive thyroid and a rare tumour of the adrenal gland called a phaeochromocytoma. But I suspect your heart rate is normal for you. If your heartbeat is not irregular, and if you do not get any symptoms (such as faintness, palpitations or fatigue), I don't think you need do anything different. Next time you see your doctor, ask him to check your pulse. He may suggest a thyroid function blood test or an ECG heart tracing, just to rule out underlying causes.

Please send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182; or e-mail Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.

Readers write

RS from the USA questions the value of chickenpox vaccination as a way of preventing shingles:

In the United States, where nearly all children are now given chickenpox vaccination, shingles seems to have become more common. This may be because people are not being exposed to natural chickenpox as they get older. Think twice before introducing the vaccine in the UK.