Three doctors explain three common health concerns.
Dr. Valerie Taylor, psychiatrist-in-chief, Women's College Hospital, Toronto;
Dr. Kymm Feldman, family physician, Women's College Hospital, Toronto;
Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, endocrinologist and director of the division of endocrinology at Women's College Hospital, Toronto
Q: I have a habit of pulling out the hairs on my head. Is something wrong with me?
DR. TAYLOR SAYS
"What it could be is trichotillomania, a common impulse-control disorder where people have the irresistible urge to pull out the hairs from their scalp, eyelashes or eyebrows. What separates this condition from a mild irritation is the frequency of the action and the emotions tied to it. Prior to acting on the impulse, many sufferers will feel tense or try to resist the urge, then an overwhelming feeling of relief, satisfaction, gratification or relaxation follows the action. This abnormal behaviour can start for a number of reasons, including boredom or a reaction to a stressful situation or conflict. Left untreated—or if the problem persists and worsens because of severe hair loss or a bare patch—it can lead to further social or work-related issues. To treat this disorder, we first adopt behavioural therapy, where we try to reverse the habit, replacing it with something else, such as making a fist or tapping fingers."
Q: What's the best way to monitor diabetes? At what age should I get screened?
DR. FELDMAN SAYS
"Studies have shown that with weight loss and lifestyle changes, including dietary adjustments and exercise, a diabetes diagnosis can be reversed, particularly if it's recent. Making significant changes to your diet has been shown to be effective. This means lowering your caloric intake, reducing your consumption of high glycemic index foods (such as bananas, melons and white pasta, bread and potatoes) and eating more protein- and fibre-rich foods. As for exercise, incorporate a mix of cardiovascular and strength training. In the absence of risk factors, such as age, ethnicity, weight and family history, it's recommended that, starting at age 45, you should get screened every three years."
Q: I sometimes get a stomachache after I eat dairy. Am I lactose-intolerant?
DR. LIPSCOMBE SAYS
"When lactose doesn't break down—due to a lack of the lactase enzyme—you might experience one or more side-effects, such as gas or diarrhea. Here's how lactose intolerance is diagnosed.
1. "First, a doctor will rule out other more concerning causes of abdominal pain, such as Crohn's disease, colitis, celiac disease, ulcers or appendicitis.
2. "Next, a doctor will check if you have one or more of the following symptoms from half an hour to two hours after consuming dairy: abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, nausea or excess gas.
3. "The easiest method to confirm an intolerance is to eliminate dairy entirely for a short period—aim for a week—then introduce a few items back into your diet to see if the symptoms return. Following that, a medical or blood test can be done, but those are less frequent and more invasive practices.