This week is Self Care Week – an awareness week that aims to to educate individuals and families about the importance of self-care. Of all the awareness campaigns that we publicise, Self Care Week is really important for everyone at EBPCOOH and Richmond GP OOH as by encouraging everyone to take better care of themselves reduces the pressure on our healthcare services. With many people still booking appointments with their GP for a cold or a headache, understanding self-care basics can help you to take charge of your healthcare, keeping appointments free for those with urgent health needs.

 

Healthcare basics – dealing with common complaints

There are many common health complaints which can be cared for at home. These will not only help you feel more confident in dealing with yours and your family’s health, but also make sure that doctors’ surgeries, A&E departments and other healthcare services are reserved for those with urgent health needs. Many common illnesses can be dealt with using over the counter medication, whilst pharmacists will also be able to advise you on care and when to seek help from a doctor.

Constipation

If you’re having difficulty or pain passing stools, you may be conscious that something serious is wrong with your digestive system. However, constipation is very common, with as many as 2 in 10 people suffering with it at any one time. Often, this is down to not having enough fibre in your diet, so it’s important to eat a healthy diet packed with fruit and vegetables, cereals, seeds and pulses as well as drinking plenty of water. Your pharmacist will have many types of medications to help tackle constipation, and paracetamol may be able to help with any pain you are experiencing.

When to see a doctor: You should book an appointment with your GP if your symptoms last for more than 6 weeks, if you are beginning to vomit, you think your constipation is caused by your medication, or if you’re over 50 and have never suffered constipation before. If you’ve been losing weight for no reason and you’re constantly tired, make sure you see your doctor to discuss your symptoms.

Sprains and strains

Sprains and strains are very common and can happen when we exercise or play sport, when we’re out and about or even just carrying out basic tasks. Often sprains and strains are caused when muscles aren’t warmed up properly, causing muscles to tear. Symptoms will be immediate in most cases, with pain, swelling and sometimes a difficulty in using the affected joint. The best way to self-care for sprains and strains is to rest the affected joint, which may mean no exercise for a period until you’ve recovered. Pain relief such as ibuprofen can be effective at reducing swelling, whilst the PRICE (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate) method can also help in the first few days.

When to see a doctor: If you suspect that your sprain or strain is actually a break, fracture or dislocation or if you continue to experience difficulty moving the affected joint after a few days. If over the counter medication doesn’t work to relieve pain, or you experience numbness around the area, that’s another reason to see your GP or head to A&E.

Headaches and migraines

Headaches can be caused by a number of factors including dehydration and tension, leading to the feeling of tightness or pressure affecting parts of the eye. When suffering from a headache, it’s important that you rest, drink plenty of fluids, and use painkillers if you wish such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. Migraines can be more severe, and you may find that resting in a dark room can help your symptoms.

When to see your doctor: If over the counter medications don’t work, or you continue to experience pain after a head injury – make an appointment as soon as possible. If your symptoms get worse in certain situations such as coughing, straining, laughing, etc, or you notice your speech has changed, it’s important that you discuss your symptoms with a doctor. The Pain Toolkit and NHS Choices Headache resource pages are also useful sources of information.

Heartburn and indigestion

Heartburn and indigestion are very common complaints, affecting 4 in 10 people each year. Pain and discomfort in the chest or upper abdomen typically occur shortly after eating meals, particularly high fat meals. The key to reducing symptoms is to eat a healthier diet, as well as losing weight if you’re currently overweight. Pharmacists will be able to recommend over the counter medication which can help relieve your symptoms, but be wary of taking aspirin or ibuprofen which could actually be the cause of your symptoms.

When to see your doctor: It’s rare that something more serious will be behind your symptoms, but if you do experience other digestive symptoms such as feeling nauseous, producing dark stools or vomiting blood or if you have difficulty swallowing, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

The Self-Care Forum has some fantastic fact sheets explaining various common complaints and how to treat them. In all cases, if your symptoms persist or get worse, always make an appointment with your GP. You can find more information about Self Care Week from the NHS, here.