I’m a GP – here are the red health flags and conditions you and your mum must never ignore
Your mum might think it’s her job to worry about you, but let’s be honest, we also worry about our mums.
How could we not?
Whether your mum is fit and sociable, or beginning to struggle and slow down, there are certain health conditions you should both have on your radar.
Here, Dr Samantha Wild, GP and clinical lead for women’s health at Bupa, talks us through them.
Every woman goes through menopause whether we like it or not.
“It mainly affects women aged 45 to 55, but the average UK age is 51,” says Dr Wild.The average UK age for menopause starting is 51[/caption]
Most of us are aware of classic symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats, but it doesn’t always show up like that.
“Anxiety, insomnia, low mood, depression – these are things women don’t necessarily attribute to menopause,” says Dr Wild.
“You can also get unusual symptoms like tinnitus, unpleasant body odour and new allergies.
“Sometimes women see specialists first about these unusual symptoms and haven’t put everything together.”
Help your mum: Dr Wild says to look out for signs of lack of confidence and self-esteem in your mum, and if she mentions any of those more surprising symptoms, suggest she seek help from her GP.
Both of you should focus on having a healthy lifestyle, balanced diet, regular exercise and six to eight hours’ sleep, while keeping stress levels under control.
“We know a good lifestyle hugely reduces menopause symptoms,” says Dr Wild.
It’s worth investigating HRT (hormone replacement therapy) too – our Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign has helped persuade the government to reduce the cost of HRT prescriptions.
Going hand in hand with menopause is osteoporosis – thinning of the bones.
“It’s more likely to occur in older women when their oestrogen levels drop, but HRT can prevent that,” says Dr Wild.
“If your mum gets fractures more easily as she gets older, it should be considered.
“Also help prevent it by eating a diet packed with calcium-rich food (such as broccoli and oranges), getting enough vitamin D and staying active.”
Help your mum: “Encourage strength or weight-bearing exercise and set a good example.
“Exercise together,” Dr Wild suggests. “My mum goes to the same gym as me.
“We don’t do the same classes, but it gave her the courage to go because I was there and it felt like a safe place.”
Alternatively, try swimming, jogging or even gentle skipping together – it’s a proven bone strengthener.
Download Crossrope’s Jump Rope Training app for easy skipping sessions.
Breast and Gynaecological Cancers
You both need to be alert to these diseases.
“Breast cancer affects one in seven women and is more likely to occur post-menopause.Breast cancer affects one in seven women and is more likely to occur post-menopause[/caption]
“We see the highest incidence in women in their 60s,” says Dr Wild.
“But all women should be examining their breasts often.”
Endometrial cancer is found in the lining of the womb and the main red flag is bleeding after menopause, or heavy periods or bleeding between periods before menopause.
“Cervical cancer is more common in women in their 30s, but we still see it in older women,” says Dr Wild.
“Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in British women, but is often missed because it can present with vague symptoms.
People may feel full easily after eating, have abdominal pain, indigestion or bloating, or experience pressure on the bladder. It’s often attributed to irritable bowel syndrome, meaning diagnosis gets delayed.”
Help your mum: “Emphasise how important it is to attend screenings,” says Dr Wild – and make sure you go to yours.
Women aged 50-71 are invited to a breast screening every three years, and cervical screening is every three to five years for ages 25-64.
Send your mum CoppaFeel!’s How To Check Your Boobs video, and schedule your checks at the same time once a month.
Bowel and Lung Cancer
Inspirational The Sun columnist Dame Deborah James died last year of bowel cancer at the age of 40.
The mum of two devoted the final years of her life to raising awareness of the disease.
“Thanks to Dame Deborah, everyone is more aware of bowel cancer symptoms like irregular bowel motions, blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss.
“With lung cancer, red flags are coughing up blood or chest infections that don’t resolve,” says Dr Wild.
“Remind your mum that NHS bowel cancer screening is available for those aged 60-74.”
And this is coming down to 50 by 2025, after a win for The Sun’s No Time 2 Lose campaign.
Alzheimer’s can be tricky to spot, as early symptoms can mimic other conditions.
“I see women forgetting their words mid-sentence, they’re getting brain fog – and that’s totally normal with menopausal symptoms and can be a normal sign of ageing,” says Dr Wild.Alzheimer’s can be tricky to spot, as early symptoms can mimic other conditions[/caption]
“We have to determine if there are any Alzheimer’s symptoms, as there’s a close overlap.
“People with the disease tend to also have personality changes.
“They can be confused, have problems with language and understanding, and there’s often a lack of awareness or denial that there’s a problem.”
Help your mum: Visit the Alzheimer’s Society website (Alzheimers.org.uk) to compare normal ageing versus dementia.
If memory loss is affecting your mum’s day-to-day life, suggest seeing her GP, but otherwise reassure her.
“If you’re able telling me there’s an issue and you’re aware of what’s going on, it’s unlikely to be Alzheimer’s, because people with it aren’t usually so clued up and able to verbalise it,” says Dr Wild.
“Women are twice as likely to die from coronary heart disease as breast cancer.
“Yet we tend to think it’s a male disease, even though women present with the same symptoms – chest pain going up into the neck and down the arm.”
Call 999 if your mum could be having a heart attack.
How To Step In
If you’re worried about your mum, it’s natural to want to march her to the doctor, but don’t.
“If she’s able to act for herself, you shouldn’t be calling her GP,” says Dr Wild.
“Always offer to go with her to appointments, but you shouldn’t speak on her behalf, unless she wants you to.”
Instead, make sure she knows you’re there for her.
“Say you’re concerned and ask if she’s feeling well.
“Then ask if there’s any way you can help her and suggest she talks to the GP,” says Dr Wild. You can’t make her go, but knowing she’s got your support might make it easier for her to ring the surgery.
Questions To Ask Your Mum
It’s important to be informed on your family’s health history.Ask your mum important questions about your family’s health history[/caption]
Dr Wild says to ask:
Is there any history of breast cancer in the family?
Ask about other cancers as well, but breast cancer in particular can have a genetic element.
When did you have your menopause?
If your mum had a premature menopause, you may be more likely to have one, too.
Does our family have a history of high cholesterol or high blood pressure?
Heart disease in a parent over 60 is more significant, as genetics may be more in play.